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Posts from the ‘innovation’ Category

seems I’m in very good company …

January 26, 2012


Beth Comstock, SVP and CMO of GE recently had a great article on Forbes online:  “Innovation is a State of Mind”.  If you know nothing else about me, you do know that innovation is an absolute obsession of mine — and it’s nice to know that someone so successful and highly-regarded feels the same way.

She starts her piece with a quote from the great, late entrepreneur Robert Noyce:  “Optimism is an essential ingredient for innovation.  How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in a safe place?”

I agree with this statement, but only to a point.  Absolutely, if you don’t believe in possibilities, opportunities and the fact that there is a way forward you might as well pack up your office and go home.  But I think that ‘acceptance’, ‘willingness’ and ‘courage’ are equally, if not more, important.  Why?  Well, okay, we all know that the economy is bad everywhere.  Unemployment is still high.  Jobs are still scarce.  Life is uncertain.

So let’s say that I run an ad agency.  New business is hard to come by.  Every time I answer the phone it’s a client calling to cancel a project or reduce a budget.  They are questioning every dime we spend and send us back to re-quote time and time again.  We have a hiring freeze.  My staff are stretched beyond their limits, tired, fed up and stressed.  Raises are out of the question.  Nobody’s having a good time.

On the positive side I know I have good people working for me.  They know how much I value them.  We do great work, consistently.  Despite all the budget issues we have good client relationships.  In my heart I believe that we will come out of this whole.  So yes, I am optimistic about the future.

What I have accepted is a problem that seems to be out of my control.  But have I accepted — or even asked myself — whether or not there is something in my control that needs fixing?  Do clients value what agencies do?  Do they consider that a lot of what we do is not as unique a skill or talent as we think — but is, in their opinion, a commodity?  Does the whole agency model need changing?

This soul-searching won’t change the economy overall, but are there more relevant services we could offer clients?  Would it help with new business?  Would clients be willing to pay more to get what they need and want and value?

All right.  So now I acknowledge and accept the fact that we should take a long, hard look at what we do, how we do it, how much (or how little) we charge for it, and what our clients might value more.

Am I willing to take this on?  It’s a lot of work.  It’s not easy to undo what an industry has been doing for 50, 60, 80+ years.  Generally people hate change.  It won’t be easy to sell it to my boss.  It won’t be easy to sell it to my staff.  Do I not have enough on my plate?  Do I really need to take this on?

Yep.  So far so good.  I am optimistic about the future and the future of my agency.  I accept the fact that some of our challenges are of our own doing.  I am willing to invest the time and the money to come up with innovative solutions.

So do I have the balls?

Because there are risks.  My boss could shoot it down.  My boss could get pissed off because instead of spending my days concentrating on making the agency we have successful, I am wasting my time day-dreaming.  Even if I got my boss onside, and even if we were to include our clients in the process, this wouldn’t be the first time a client endorsed an idea in theory and walked away from it when it became real.   Maybe we’d lose some staff who hate the idea — and also hate the fact that because we may have eliminated some services, we have also eliminated some jobs.  What if I miscalculated and it didn’t get us new business?

But on the other hand, what if it worked like a charm?  What if our new and innovative approach to what an ad agency could and should do for clients won us rave reviews from clients, prospects and the press?   What if profits soared?  What if we attracted, and hung on to, the industry’s top talent?  What if we couldn’t cope with all the new business that beat a path to our door?  What if we ended up on the cover of Forbes?

Without the courage to try, we’d never know.  Without the courage, willingness, acceptance and optimism.

There must be something to this idea of innovation — why else is it the theme at Davos this year?




who knew that one day, I’d be agreeing with Preston Manning

December 29, 2011


Yep, I must admit that Preston Manning’s never been my cup of tea.  But he has an article in today’s Globe and Mail that I totally agree with — and applaud him for writing.  An article that’s got me very excited; and hopeful:  Commercializing science:  Right players, right roles for innovation gold.

There is a definite lack in Canada — not just of innovative thinking — but much worse, I think — we don’t seem to have a gut-wrenching desire to be innovative.  And as much of a cliche as this statement is, I don’t feel that we have a fire in our collective belly.  We can’t seem to taste it!  We don’t seem to want it at all — never mind, want it badly.

So what I love most about his article,  is the underlying ‘idea’ — and the very spirit behind Cal Stiller’s (one of Canada’s most accomplished medical scientists and entrepreneurs) challenge to all of us — that Canada can, should and must  “own the innovation podium, just as we aimed to own the podium in Vancouver at the Winter Olympics.”

Mind over matter certainly worked for Vancouver.  I’ll never forget the momentum that the olympic torch created as it travelled from province to province.  Some of us may have been ambivalent as it began its journey but we sure didn’t stay that way for long.  The crowds and the enthusiasm swelled and just kept swelling.  I’ll never forget the Opening Ceremonies and the Canadian pride that was let loose in that stadium (and in living rooms across the nation) — and at all the events that followed — right up to, and including, the Closing Ceremonies.

And what that led to, on the podium!

I’ve lived in this country all my life and never, ever, have I experienced anything like it.  But it didn’t last long.  And now we need to muster that up again.  There is no doubt in my mind that is is the greatest country on earth to live in.  I believe that more and more every day.  Our potential is unlimited.  But it does depend on us.  All of us — the public and private sectors — scientists — researchers — entrepreneurs — corporations large and small — individuals — students — businessmen and women.  All of us.  Coming together.  Collaborating.  Brainstorming.  Digging deep for real solutions.  Breaking out of the past.  Being brave enough to embrace new ideas, new ways of doing things.  Forging a new path.

Embracing innovation.  Going for gold!

That’s my wish for all of us as we count down the few days remaining in 2011.  I wish it for myself and for my friends, family and colleagues.  And I wish it for Canada.

I hope that, in 2012, we continue where we left off at the end of February, 2010 — in Vancouver, across the country and, in fact, in the message we sent around the world:  That when we Canadians set our minds to it, we can, and do, accomplish great things!

a post on WordPress I really liked today

December 7, 2011


Just read a provocative post on Len Brzozowski’s (Executive Director of the Xavier Leadership Center) WordPress blog:  “Why a Business Degree May Not Be a Good Bet”.  In fact, his piece references an article by CBS’s Lynn O’Shaughnessay; and essentially the point they are both making is, you’re not going to learn the things you need to learn to succeed in the world we live in today.  It’s not relevant, in other words, and neither will you be.

I think what Ms O’Shaughnessay is missing (and seems to be missing from a lot of articles I’m reading lately, about all kinds of subjects) is the real solution:  Suggesting that kids forgo a business degree because it has no value any more does not solve the problem any more than Canada’s new guidelines on breast cancer screening do.

Improve the screening techniques, for God sake — don’t screen fewer people, less often.  And improve the programme, so a business degree does have value in this new world of ours — don’t tell kids not to go.  We are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, folks!  I commented on Mr. Brzozowski’s post and he responded to my comment, etc. etc. etc.  We are both in agreement, actually, but he did say something that is really the crux of the whole issue:  “Change is hard”.

Yes it is.  But change we must.

Not a little change.  Not a simple change.  We need to re-think everything we do.  We can’t get away with saying “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it, anymore”.  We can’t ignore it and hope it goes away, either.  Because it won’t.  As individuals, as educators, as health care providers, as executives, as employees, as politicians; in our cities, in our provinces and states, in our countries, the only way we will survive and thrive going forward is if we learn to embrace, and practice, innovation.

And we have to stop trying to take the easy way out — which is to turn our backs on the problem completely.


we either start thinking outside the box or we’ll end up with more and more people inside the box (as in 6 feet under)

November 24, 2011


Andre Picard, who writes the ‘Second Opinion’ column in the Globe and Mail made the front page this morning.  His story, “When it comes to breast cancer, science trumps wishful thinking” gives us yet another opinion of yesterday’s news:   After years and years and years of having the importance of yearly mammograms and early detection drummed into our heads, the Canadian recommendations on screening are changing.

What they’re now saying, in a nutshell, is that only post menopausal women should have mammograms — and less often than we’ve been told in the past.  Specifically, unless you are at high risk (family history of breast cancer or positive for breast cancer genes BRCA1 or BRCA2):

  •  Canadian women 50 to 74 should now have mammograms every two to three years — instead of yearly from 50 – 69 as per their earlier recommendation.
  • Women 70 to 74 should now have mammograms every two to three years — a group who were previously excluded.
  • Women under 50 should now not have mammograms at all.
  • Clinical breast exams and breast self-examination are no longer perceived to have value — so there is no longer any medical reason to fondle your breasts.

The article goes into all kinds of details and reasons, but seeing as how I am giving you the link (see above) and you can read it yourself, I’ll just give you the topline:  “Many women who undergo screening mammography have false positives (meaning they are told they have cancer when they do not) and some are treated unnecessarily.  (therefore, let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater).

I have many questions, but the most burning issue of all for me is this:

  • It would appear to me that our screening methods may be flawed (and don’t get me started on how many lives may have been lost because of this).
  • Not even one article I’ve read (and I’ve read several) has reported that the folks on the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care Guidelines are concerned about this.
  • Not one article has reported that these same folks are thinking or suggesting that we should be improving our diagnostic techniques.
  • The recommendation is not to address or try to solve the root problem.  To think differently.  To look for innovative solutions.  No … instead of finding ways to IMPROVE screening, and screen EARLIER and, therefore, prevent more disease and save more lives (and money because prevention is less costly than treating patients over and over and over again) let’s just screen fewer people.  Yeah … that’ll fix the problem — sweep it under the rug for another ten years and it will be somebody else’s problem by then!

‘Innovation‘ is one of the hottest topics around these days.  It’s almost getting as much attention as the economy.  As well it should.

And if this debacle doesn’t prove that we are in dire shape in this country I don’t know what does.  Every health care practitioner … every hospital administrator … every researcher … every silly servant at every level of government … every philanthropist … every insurer … every strategist … every creative thinker … every journalist who covers health care should all be hanging their heads in shame.

We have to stop deluding ourselves.  We need change.  Radical change.  We need it now.  We need to put our heads together and figure it out.  Not just for breast cancer — for our health care system in general.  It is not working.  Period.

I was so pissed off, frustrated, horrified and disappointed when I read Andre Picard’s article this morning I emailed him.  We bantered back and forth a couple of times — and in the end he did agree that “we need better prevention and treatment and more realistic presentation of what we’re able to do now.”  So I do have one, last question for Andre Picard:

Instead of justifying the new recommendations why didn’t you ask the tough questions that need to be asked?

think different? Not everyone wants to, it seems.

November 21, 2011


WOW!  There was an article in The Globe today that I liked, by Roger Martin, who’s the Dean of the Rotman School of Business.  For anyone who missed it, here’s a link:  “Canada, like Steve Jobs, should zero in on innovation“.

I thought I’d blog about it, and went to their site so I could pick up the link.  But once there I decided to check out some of the comments that had been posted — an exercise that blew my mind.   Admittedly I didn’t check all of them — after a page I gave up.  Talk about negative!  My God!  Seriously.

Angry.  Defensive.  Negative.  Frightened when you come right down to it — and resistant — of change.

Nobody is suggesting that anyone had to love every word.  Or even agree.  But these folks just shut down.  Period.  Talk about closed minds.  I sure hope they don’t speak for the vast majority of Canadians because God help us if they do.

Fact is, we live in a very different world than the one we are used to.  And in my humble opinion the old ways of doing almost anything are going to have to change — and so are we.  As consumers, because of the Internet, we have access to more information than ever before — and that empowers us.  We no longer have to take anyone’s word for anything.  And, as consumers, because of social media we now have a voice — a powerful voice.  We can share information, learning and experiences — both good and bad.  And we can watch that information spread like a virus when we touch the right nerve.  Which makes us, like bloggers, important influencers (some bloggers have more than half a million followers).

And that means that the customer experience has never been more important.  Our opinions are starting to count.  Big time.

Consumers want choice.  We want transparency.  We want what we want — not what you want to force down our throats. We’re re-connecting with our collective conscience and we want the companies we do business with, and our governments  to have one as well.  We’ve been the victims of greed and we’re not buying it any more.  The rules have changed; and they’re not changing back any time soon.

Why should we have to buy bundles of programming when all we want is one channel in the group?  Why should insurance companies give us grief — and penalize us — when we have to make a claim — do we get a refund for all the years we paid and never claimed?  Why is it that some airline rewards programs make it almost impossible to book trips while others have no black-out periods or restrictions?

When are we going to stop deluding ourselves about our health care system?  Yes, everyone in Canada can get medical attention.  But how good is it?  How many lives are lost while some patients are forced to wait  six months for an MRI?   How many cases of colon cancer could be prevented if colonoscopies were as routine as mammograms?  How can you justify that some tumours are too small for treatments that can prevent recurrence?  In what instance is it acceptable to treat a 60 year old — but not an 80 year old — with the same illness — and then refuse to discuss euthanasia when there is no hope of recovery or treatment?

Jobs are scarce and getting scarcer.  So instead of hauling people on UI down to look at job boards that lead to nothing, why aren’t we inspiring and helping them to start small businesses?  We have micro loan programs in emerging nations?  Why not right here — to get some of these folks’ businesses up and running?

I’m just saying.

So do yourself a favour and read Roger Martin’s column, with an open mind.  And please, try to embrace change.  Try to embrace innovation.  We really do need to get with the program.  A new program.