Just because I’m an “innovation guy”, doesn’t mean that I can: 1) wear red underwear over blue tights like Superman or 2) try to reinvent everything. The art of innovation is also knowing when and how to use what already exists. I was recently advising a startup founder with a grand vision for a new kind of tech education for corporate employees. I agreed that he was onto something…but he was trying to slice strawberries with a chainsaw. (I prefer an axe.) His efforts were stalling as he wooed major players in the category for support. Having worked with lots of large companies, I know getting one company to buy in can be slower than tweezing Alec Baldwin smooth; getting multiples is like re-implanting each follicle. So this entrepreneur was stuck with a big idea that might take forever to coordinate and millions to build. He also lacked a clear plan for getting customers…whose demand for the product was far from guaranteed. Yes, he had it all. There was a better way – and it meant thinking small.
Here are a few things I suggested to him (at least the ones I can share):
I recently saw a post on the TED web site posing the question, “Can advertising be a force for good?” Here’s my response:
What a nonsensical question! Advertising is a vehicle for transporting messages. It’s not inherently good or evil. It conveys the desires, values and motivations of the payer (client). Is every client good? I’m always amused when people try to spin their chosen professions as altruistic. Advertising is what it is – something you do for client money. (It’s no different than consulting, something I’m all too familiar with.)
One thing to keep in mind – advertising produces nothing. It is the means, not the end, so it has no intrinsic demand, like Kit Kats or even Sea Monkeys. It exists to create demand and awareness for something else. If someone truly creative didn’t produce the products themselves, no one would be rioting on Madison Avenue demanding advertising – or even know they were missing it.
To take it a step further, most people expend a good amount of effort avoiding advertising – throwing out magazine inserts, skipping DVR ads, using browser ad blockers. So by definition, if most see blocking as good, then is the thing you’re trying to block “bad”?
Having launched and managed several innovation programs at Fortune 100 companies, I can say for certain that Six Sigma is a far more natural fit for most companies than innovation. Six Sigma gives structure to the known, while innovation aims to do so for the unknown. There is nothing scarier/more threatening to a large company than the prospect of disruptive change. That is why most large companies are absolutely terrible at it. Only a handful are built to truly innovate. Digital, unregulated companies with short launch cycles, like Google, can do it. So do a few R&D-heavy ones like GE in the physical world. The rest? They act incrementally and like it that way, unless they feel an imminent threat which makes change inevitable.
I love the idea of this Forbes article, but it has all the comprehensiveness of a Twitter post. Yes, auto workers in Germany produce more and get double the pay of US workers, but this article narrowly attributes this to employer-union relations. A broader discussion needs to include things like:
- Variances in cost structures (eg who pays benefits the state or the company)
- Degree of automation (a highly automated company will have fewer, higher skilled, higher paying jobs)
- Culture-driven variances in worker performance (eg Germans are notoriously efficient, timely and meticulous)
- Variances in how premium the product lines are. The US produces far more mass market cars, which have lower margins than the more high-end German ones.
- Differences in quality of management, innovation and strategy
- The full article only alludes to the nationalist obligation Germans feel for their companies. The other angle is the degree of national accountability the companies themselves have.
I do agree we need a substantive debate on manufacturing unions and the future of employment in the US, but this only scratches the surface.
- Define yourself. What are you? Are you Mexican, American, Middle Eastern, sandwiches? No one knows. You’re trying to be all things to all people. Stop.
- You have too many menu items. It’s impossible to do 90% of them well. Pick a cuisine, then get rid of everything that doesn’t fit. Have you seen a Chipotle menu? Simple.
- Your prices are too high, lower them. You’re a tiny take-out joint. Act like one.
- Change your name. There is no such thing as a blue food and no one describes food as “cool”. Fresh, delicious, spicy, savory, not “cool” and definitely not “blue”. Plus your awful premise for a restaurant badly needs to be forgotten as quickly as possible.