Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The IDE3A Process

 There is clearly a paradox in distilling the creative process into five easy steps.  So let’s do four instead:

                       Explore, experiment and evaluate

Whether you are designing a new web page, developing a new product or evolving a completely new business model, investigation is the first step. Focus your intellectual curiosity on the project and learn as much as you can about the origin, history, implication, trends and future projections as you can. As your understanding deepens, your creative choices broaden.

Former GE Chairman Jack Welch called this process a “deep dive” and considered it one of his favorite perks as an executive. Welch defined it as “spotting a challenge where you think you can make a difference--one that looks like it would be fun--and then throwing the weight of your position behind it.”  Even if you lack the influence of a GE Chairman, the “deep dive” is a powerful technique.

As your understanding deepens, the next step is to define your project goals and objectives. Placing “define” as the second step in the process may seem counterintuitive to many.  I realize that the classic Six Sigma DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) begins with the definition step. However, I believe it is a mistake to define a problem or project before gaining a deep understanding of the situation. Your project definition will direct and limit your creative choices, so it should be approached with care and understanding.

When you move into the explore, experiment and evaluate phase, things get really interesting and really fun.  This is the time to test specific ideas and see how they work.  Rapid prototyping is critical: mock things up quickly, test how well they work quickly, succeed or fail quickly and move on to the next experiment.

This phase usually involves a cycle where exploration, experimentation and evaluation are followed by a period of reflection to allow the idea to incubate. Reflection leads to new insights which kick off another round of experimentation. Through these cycles, the creative idea gets refined and focused.

The final step is to amaze with stunning implementation.  The best idea in the world still requires excellent execution. This is usually the longest and most tedious phase in a project and it requires mastery and attention to detail. Implementation is hard work and isn’t always fun.  But anything less than amazing is a waste of effort.

In 1984, Steve Jobs used the phrase “insanely great” to describe the newly introduced Macintosh computer and Apple has amazed us with a whole series of “insanely great” products since.  However, neither the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad were the first in their category or even the most powerful. What Apple provides  is an amazing user experience and stunning design. Your implementation needs to meet the same “insanely great” standard.

The IDE3A is an oversimplification.  But I believe it provides a useful framework for understanding the creative process.

What ideas are you exploring that could benefit from the IDE3A process?  How will you make them amazing?

Jack: Straight from the Gut     The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success      The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Innovation at Eric Scott

In 2007, Eric Scott, a private label manufacturing company in St. Genevieve, Missouri, identified a big problem. Eric Scott’s specialty is making high quality leather products and about 80 percent of their revenue came from the financial services industry. They make checkbook covers and they make them so well that they control 90 percent of the high end checkbook cover market.

However, fewer people are using checks.  Debit cards and online payments have reduced check usage by 3 to 5 percent per year between 2002 and 2008. People who no longer write checks don’t need a nice leather checkbook cover. The drop accelerated in 2009 and 2010.

Fortunately, Eric Scott is a great example of leveraging a core competency to develop a new business opportunity. They understood that their tools and experience made them experts at manufacturing high quality leather goods.  They had also developed a method which allowed a consumer to upload an image and have it printed on a leather checkbook cover. So they began to explore opportunities in photo gifting.

In 2008, they decided to focus on the photo gifting opportunity, adding marketing staff, expanding their marketing research and attending photo industry events like PMA, DScoop, Imaging USA and WPPI. They developed a beautiful new line of genuine leather photo gifts and opened a webstore at to test the concept. True to their private label roots, the products are also offered through retailers and professional portrait labs.  Sales are growing and they expect that photo gifts will soon generate 25 to 30 percent of the company’s revenue.

“We have always had a focus on manufacturing and operational excellence,”  explains Dana Viox, Eric Scott’s Vice President of Business Development. “But going from making 10,000 units of each item to manufacturing in units of one has changed everything.  We have upgraded our cutting tools to reduce setup times and increased our use of barcode tracking to make sure each order goes to the right person.”

“Viox summarizes her experiences in the innovation process as “really challenging and really fun to get in on the ground floor of an industry that is evolving and growing so rapidly.”

What are your company’s core competencies?  How could they be used to develop a new business opportunity?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Ideas!

At his sixtieth birthday celebration, Nobel prize winning chemist Linus Pauling was asked by a student, “Doctor Pauling, how does one go about having good ideas?”  He replied, “You have a lot of ideas and throw away the bad ones.”

In his book Creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly has these suggestions for generating ideas.  First, produce as many ideas as possible.  Focus on quantity, you can be critical later and edit for quality. Second, have as many different ideas as possible.  Quantity is important, but try to generate a  wide variety of options.  Finally, try to produce unlikely ideas. Go beyond the obvious and simple approaches.

One of my favorite techniques is to consider ideas that would be great if there were no constraints. What if money were no object?  What if you could break the laws of physics?  What if there were no processing or uploading delays?  What if you turned it upside down?  Or inside out?

What great ideas have you considered lately? 


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your Business Model is Broken

Your business model is broken!   If not, it will be soon.

 I can make that statement with confidence because every business model becomes obsolete with time and today’s rapid rate of social and technical change means every business has to evolve more quickly.

Peter Drucker, the famous management guru and social ecologist, described a business model as the answer to three questions:

    Who is your customer?

    What does the customer value?

    How do you deliver value to that customer at an appropriate cost?

In other words, it’s what you do, who you do it for, and how you do it.  When you make a change to any one of these areas, you are implementing business model innovation.

You are probably aware of the four stages of a product life cycle: Introduction, Growth, Maturity and Decline.  These same stages apply to business models as well.

In the introduction phase, there are a limited number of customers and a limited number of competitors.  Typically, the companies in the introduction phase of a new business model are spending more on development and marketing than they are generating in revenue.  It usually isn’t clear whether or not the new model is going to be a success or a failure.  

An example of a new business model still in the introduction phase is creating personalized wearable 3D portraits by converting portraits into 3D models and printing the models using a 3D printer. The technology exists and the product is wonderful, but very few people know that the product exists yet.

In the growth phase of a business model, the consumers have discovered and like what you are doing and your sales and profits are growing rapidly.  Competitors are jumping in and copying or improving upon the business model, but the expansion of the market means there are opportunities for lots of companies. Selling of photo books and photo gifts online is an example of business model in the growth stage. Sales in the entire category are growing rapidly and so are the stock valuations of the major players.

Eventually the growth slows down and the model enters the maturity phase. There is a lot of competition and capacity which pushes down prices and profits. Companies with strong brands and excellent operations will generate positive cash flow which can be invested in looking for new business model innovations. Selling digital cameras through big box retailers is a mature business model.

In the decline stage, the volume of business is shrinking and too many companies are chasing what is left.  Weaker companies go out of business and the stronger ones make acquisitions to keep their volume up. Silver halide photo finishing and commercial offset printing are businesses in decline.

Successful companies develop, test and introduce new business models continuously to keep the business growing.  They find new products and services that customers value and better ways to deliver those services.

In the Harvard Business Review, Matthew Eyring, Mark W Johnson and Hari Nair identify three steps to successful business model innovation.  First, you need to identify an unmet job that a target customer needs done.  Next, blue print a model that can accomplish that job profitably for a price the customer is willing to pay.  Finally, carefully implement and evolve the model by testing the essential assumptions and adjusting as you learn.

Is your business model broken yet?  What innovations are you introducing to generate growth?

Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Make a Not-to-do List

The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the WorldMost of the posts on this site encourage you to add something to your to-do list.  That’s a problem.  Your to-do list is already full.  There isn’t time to add one more thing.

You need to make a not-to-do list. Identify the ways you spend time that don’t move you closer to your goals for happiness and success. Write down the things that you don’t want to do anymore on a list and post it where you can see it every day.  Then stop doing those things!

Making a not-to-do list is more difficult than it sounds. Some things that drain your time might be comfortable routines developed over years.  Others may be moving you toward goals that are no longer important to you. Others might be enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as other activities you could be doing.  

In the Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau coined the term “Radical Exclusion” to describe the mindset of “shutting out absolutely anything that serves as a distraction from your key priorities.”  Guillebeau proposes that you stop doing things that don’t produce a deliverable, say no to busywork and say no to things that you would only do out of a sense of obligation.

You have time to do anything you choose to do.  But not enough time to do everything.  Choose wisely!