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Posts tagged ‘innovation’

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?




it’s about the customer. The customer. The customer. Got that??

December 12, 2011


Last week Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, was in town and speaking at the Rotman School of Management.  Being a huge fan, I went.  For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about IDEO, a global consultancy, is ranked among the ten most innovative companies in the world.  Their client list, which reads like the Who’s Who of brands, includes Apple, Microsoft, PepsiCo, P&G and Steelcase, to name just a few.

Of all the many interesting things he talked about in the 60-odd minutes he had, one of the most memorable — for me — was when he took us through a project IDEO worked on, for the Singapore government — and, more specifically, the ‘user experience blueprint’ that was  at the very heart of the assignment — which was to simplify the process visitors to the country who need work permits go through.

It was absolutely brilliant.  Simple.  Logical.  And I’m sure, in much the same way I was, everyone else who was sitting in that auditorium was also wondering why the process wasn’t designed this way in the first place.

This is definitely an over-simplification of a very disciplined, methodical and strategic exercise but, you could say, that what a user experience blueprint does is help executives or planners or immigration officials or whomever the client is, put themselves in their customers’ shoes.  Experience what they experience when they need to avail themselves of your product, service, facility, etc.

In this particular case, a cameraman followed a girl from the airport (where she’d recently gotten off a plane) to the building where work permits are issued … through the front door, through the lobby, through the system.  A tourist — tired — jet lagged — alone –intimidated — in a foreign country — looking at a foreign language — not knowing where to go, what to do, how to do it, who to ask.  Finally, watching someone ahead of her going through the process and copying what she did — not knowing whether it was the right thing or not — but at that moment, it was her only alternative.

Sounds simple now.  Sounds logical now.  But it was done wrong for years and years and years.

And this is not an isolated case.  There are similar scenarios everywhere you turn, in every corner of the world.  Think about it:

  • If corporate executives put themselves in our place and ‘experienced’  their complicated IVR systems like we do, do you think we’d be forced to spend upwards of 10 minutes pressing 1 for this, or 2 for that, or 5 for something else every time we wanted information, technical support, accounting, sales, repair or service?
  • If taxi cab fleet owners tried their own service and were put on hold for 10 minutes every time they wanted a cab, then waited 20 minutes or so for one to actually show up, and then got into a filthy, smelly wreck of a car that had no shock absorbers left, that was driven by a driver who had no idea where he was going and who also never got off his cell phone — how long do you think it would take before improvements were made?
  • Do department store management ever shop in their own stores?  Do they ever wander around aimlessly, schlepping hangers and hangers full of clothes looking for a sales associate to help  — or help you find a fitting room?  Do they then wander around from empty service desk to empty service desk trying to look for a cash register that has an employee there who can ring up your purchases?
  • And what about tourists to the cities we live in.  What happens to them when they get off their planes?  Are we making them feel welcome?  Is it easy for them to find their way through the airport?  To transportation?  To their final destinations?  Can they find their way as they try to navigate through our city?  How easy is the subway for someone who comes from a foreign country? Could we be doing a better job?

The obvious is clearly not always obvious, is it?

I do have something cool to share, though.  I volunteer at Mt. Sinai Hospital.  Last summer I was asked to help with some research they were conducting.  We were asked to intercept visitors and patients as they made their way around the hospital.  Why?  Because the administration wanted to know whether these folks felt it was easy or confusing to get around.  Was it easy or difficult to find the clinics, doctors or patients they were looking for?  Especially as it related to those for whom English is a second language.  What could we do to make it easier for them?

I say “Wow”!  As if the business of saving lives isn’t enough, this management team care about all aspects of the ‘user experience’.When you think about it, it’s not really that hard to imagine what your users go through.  You just have to want to.

As for me, I want to work with IDEO.

I’ve had enough of the status quo to last me a lifetime

November 30, 2011


Despite all the problems in the world — the sorry state of the environment and the economy, the absolute insanity of the standoff between the republicans and the democrats, the unrest everywhere, the disasters — I believe we are living in remarkable times.  We have access to more information, more quickly than at any other time in history.  Technology makes everything possible.  Some of the greatest minds the world has ever known — or may ever know — are right here, right now.

And yet, we’re stuck.  We just can’t seem to move forward.  For some inexplicable reason we can’t seem to think of what could be; and instead, we refuse to change — insisting on living in the past — insisting on doing things the way we always have — despite the fact that they no longer work — and never will again.

It is so frustrating I could scream.  And it makes me think of that late 70’s movie, “Network”, starring Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and an all-star cast.  In fact, the film is a story of a fictional television network with failing ratings.  When the anchor, Peter Finch, is told he’s just got two more weeks on air, he has an on-air meltdown.  He then essentially starts ‘a movement’ when he rants “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

That is exactly how I feel, so stay tuned.  You may just see me on the 6 o’clock news one of these evenings.

It drives me crazy that I go to  conference after conference where corporate executives are ringing their hands.  “Why” you ask?  Because angry customers are venting on social media and they (the execs) think that if they have a Facebook page and get people to ‘like’ them all their problems will miraculously disappear.

Their problems will disappear when they change the way they do business.  When they create products and services that their customers want and need.

Same goes for politicians; and health care providers; and educators, by the way.

Who knows?  Maybe you’re all getting tired of hearing me whine about the same thing all the time.  But we could accomplish so much, we would do so much good — if only we were prepared to re-think the way we think.  Still not getting it?

Do yourselves a favour.  Buy “Change by Design”, a book written by Tim Brown, who is the CEO and President of IDEO — one of the top ten most innovative companies in the world.   What they do is called ‘design thinking’ — a systematic yet creative approach they use whether they are creating an object or finding an innovative way to deliver clean drinking water in the developing world.

I’ve re-read the book at least a half dozen times now; and each time I do I am more inspired.  The challenges we face can be overcome.  There’s a better, cheaper, cleaner, faster, more efficient, more human-centred way to do almost anything.  All we need is the desire, and the willingness to change.

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.

does anyone care about what I want?

November 20, 2011


Don’t worry.  I’m not expecting you to answer.  It’s a rhetorical question — and I’m only putting it out there because ‘customer experience’ is being bandied about quite a bit these days (including by yours truly); and, when I think about my own customer experiences I automatically think about whether or not they deliver what I’m looking for.

And I’m not just referring to the quality of customer service that comes with those relationships — which is where you might think I’m headed.  What I’m talking about is a much bigger, more challenging issue — and I alluded to it in my last post.  What I’m talking about are sellers and providers of anything and everything, who base their offerings on customers’ needs and preferences — not simply their own — individuals who also think, not only of benefitting themselves and the companies and organizations they work for, but society in general.

That’s what I want.

It’s a tall order, I know, but I truly believe it is the only way we’ll succeed — or even survive — going forward.  Regardless of whether you’re employed in the public or private sector.

So now let’s get more specific about some of the things I think about when I should probably be working on my latest project, my filing (which I loathe doing and is, therefore, piling up on every available surface), or even worse — laundry:

Neither the manager or staff at the grocery store where I do a lot of my shopping have ever asked me what I want (even when I’m wandering up and down the aisles looking confused because I don’t know where they’ve moved the crackers) — so I’m going to take this opportunity to tell them.

I would love to know how much food they throw away every week.  I ask because the food banks — and thank God for them — can’t accommodate perishable items.  So wouldn’t it be great if a large, warehouse type space was made available — it was outfitted with some refrigerated units (also donated) — and instead of throwing perfectly good food away, it was given to those people who currently depend on the food banks, and are currently able to eat only the staples that come in cans, tins and cartons.  It wouldn’t replace the food banks — it would just enhance what they could offer.

What are you willing to bet that if I went to the head office of any grocery store operating in this country with this idea I’d get at least 5 reasons why it can’t be done.  And I’ll bet you that if they assembled a diverse group of people who could have a role in this initiative — and if they were prepared to dig deep and think differently — we could find a way to execute at least something close to this idea.

This is something I want.  It would make me feel better about the food I am buying.  It would make me feel better about the grocery store where I shop.  It would make me feel better knowing all this food wasn’t going to waste.  And it would make me feel a lot better about what the less fortunate members of our society are eating, and what a positive effect it could have on other aspects of their lives.

Let’s move on.  Now I’d like to tell my bank what I’d like.  Relax — you don’t have to send the kids out of the room.  There’ll be no swearing.  It’s a simple, little request actually:

Have you ever wondered why, as long as you don’t exceed your credit limit, you are free to charge whatever you’d like to your credit card?  Well … I’d prefer to do that with my debit card.  If I have enough money in my account to pay for a $5,000 holiday with my debit card — cash, in other words — my cash — why can’t I?   Wouldn’t you think that whatever means banks use to ‘approve’ your credit card purchases while you’re standing at a cash register, should be transferable to debit card purchases.  So why isn’t it?  Is it merely that they’ve never thought about it themselves.  Is it because they’ve never asked their customers what they want?

Could it be that they (bank honchos) prefer it when — human nature being what it is — even though you told yourself you’d pay your credit card off as soon as you get the bill, you don’t — and they get to charge you interest?  But isn’t that short term thinking?  If you weren’t drowning in credit card debt, you’d potentially have more money — to invest (with them).  For a mortgage (with them).  For a bigger mortgage (with them).  You’d be more credit-worthy (which you’d think they’d like).  They wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not you might, one day, lose your job and be unable to pay off your credit card debt — leaving them holding the bag.

There’s a lot more on my mind, but I think I’ve done enough talking for a while.  What are some of the things you want?