Tag Archive for Innovation

Tools to Stand Out

BNET shared some stories about marketing tactics that independent bookstores are using to remain successful.

  1. Expand your reach to a national market.
  2. Go green.
  3. Create a store within a store.
  4. Open your doors to the community.
  5. Cultivate the next generation of customers.
  6. Get social.

One or more of these ideas could work for your business. We would love to help you implement them and put together a story to tell your customers about it. Maybe it is just the reason you have needed to mail a postcard out to your favorite customers?

Help your Brain be More Proactive

The Harvard Business Review shared some ideas in a blog post about “How Your Brain Connects the Future to the Past”.

A good memory can help you better navigate the future. In business, anticipating and negotiating future demands is an asset. A proactive brain uses details from past experiences to make analogies with your current surroundings. It then helps you determine where you are and envision future possibilities. We are all born with proactive brains, but these things can help improve brain performance:

  1. Give it a lot to work with. Create a richer pool of information to draw from. Expose your brain to diverse experiences and situations.
  2. Borrow from others. Find out as much as you can about others’ experiences by talking, interacting with, and reading about other peoples’ lives.
  3. Think about what you want from the future. Take time to reflect values and goals, both immediate and down the road. These will help guide your brain as it envisions future scenarios that may best help you achieve your objectives.
  4. Actively ponder future rewards or accomplishments. Emphasize rich, detailed thinking about long-term outcomes. This reduces the lure (and the danger) of instant gratification.
  5. Let your mind wander. Undisturbed time gives your brain the space it needs to recall and recombine past experiences in ways that help you anticipate the future.

The idea that letting your mind wander gives it time and space to help you recall and recombine is also supported in research we shared about learning and assimilating new experiences.

Small Business Failure Rate is 90% Wrong

The 90 percent failure rate statistic is a myth.

BNET posted an article to share some truth about this American legend. 70 percent of new firms that have at least one employee survive for at least two years. Roughly half go on for five years.

And even the 30 percent failure rate after one year may be an overstatement. That’s because other studies have shown that most firms that close their doors were profitable at the time.

One alternative to starting a business is getting a job. It turns out that going to work for someone else is roughly as likely to be short-lived as going to work for yourself. The Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at American workers’ average tenure on the job and found that, even when considering only more stable, older workers, 31 percent of the jobs they took ended in less than a year.  Not only that, but 65 percent of the jobs ended in fewer than 5 years. The future seems equally uncertain.

Foster Creativity

Newsweek published an article titled “Forget Brainstorming”. Brainstorming  became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination.  But it’s been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team’s creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together.

In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact.

So what does work?

Tell people “Do something only you would come up with—that none of your friends or family would think of.”

This can double the number of creative responses.

Get moving.

Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.

Take a break.

This is not multi-tasking. More projects get completed on time when you allow yourself to switch between them if creative solutions don’t come immediately.

Reduce screen time.

According to University of Texas professor Elizabeth Vandewater, for every hour a kid regularly watches television, his overall time in creative activities—from fantasy play to arts projects—drops as much as 11 percent. With kids spending about three hours in front of televisions each day, that could be a one-third reduction in creative time—less time to develop a sense of creative self-efficacy through play.

Explore other cultures.

Those who have lived abroad outperform others on creativity tasks. Creativity is also higher on average for first- or second-generation immigrants and bilinguals. Just studying another culture can help.

Follow a passion.

Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness. “Kids who have deep identification with a field have better discipline and handle setbacks better,” she noted. By contrast, kids given superficial exposure to many activities don’t have the same centeredness to overcome periods of difficulty.

Ditch the suggestion box.

Formalized suggestion protocols, actually stifle innovation because employees feel that their ideas go into a black hole of bureaucracy. Instead, employees need to be able to put their own ideas into practice.

Secret to Building a Stronger Business

Just the title got our attention. BNET posted an article with this title that made us want to pass along the key ideas.

Ultimately success and effectiveness comes down to people, and more specifically: you. As chief executive, you impact every aspect of your business.  Even when you delegate, your personality and decisions influence everything. It stands to reason that leaders who are psychologically in tune — meaning resilient, agile, and aware — are not only more effective, they also bring an unmatchable competitive advantage to their businesses.

How can you make that happen?

Many leaders — even those who run businesses with people-centric cultures — tend to prefer a straight-ahead, hit-the-ground-running, just-make-it-go approach to managing people. The alternative is an inside-out — rather than outside-in — view of managing people. When an employee makes a mistake or a bad decision, your first question should be “Why did he do that?” not “What can we do about it?” If you want to motivate someone, you better understand first what motivates her.

What to Do:

Strengthening your business by investing in “psychological capital,” doesn’t happen overnight. But here are two key pointers to get you started:

1.    Understand that we all naturally assert the tendency to try to keep things the same, notwithstanding good intentions and recognized imperatives to make things different.

First step: Identify the issue — say, become a better listener, feel more confident at board meetings, get your SVP to micro-manage less, understand why morale is low.

Next: Start thinking about what the issue is made of, not how to change it.  Talk about your ideas with a spouse or trusted colleague, confidante, or consultant.

Remember, dismantling and reconfiguring entrenched systems requires time, thoughtful attention, and heavy lifting.

2.    Change isn’t about finding easily opened doors. Whatever your desired outcome, what’s most crucial to getting there is identifying and unraveling the tangle of ingredients, understanding how and why they got there, and then putting something new in motion.

Richard Branson’s Success

Richard Branson recently shared his answers to successfully building businesses in Entrepreneur Magazine.

These are his tips in his words.

No. 1: Enjoy What You Are Doing.

Starting a business is a huge amount of hard work, requiring a great deal of time, you had better enjoy it. For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing talented people together and creating something that’s going to make a real difference to other people’s lives. A businessman or businesswoman has to get every single little thing right when first setting up in business in order to succeed. However, unlike a work of art, the business is never finished. It constantly evolves.

No. 2: Create Something That Stands Out.

Whether you have a product, a service or a brand, it is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive in the modern world. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make a mark today. Look at the most successful businesses of the past 20 years. Microsoft, Google or Apple, for example, shook up a sector by doing something that hadn’t ever been done and by continually innovating. They are now among the dominant forces.

No. 3: Create Something That Everybody Who Works for You is Really Proud of.

Businesses generally consist of a group of people, and they are your biggest assets.

No. 4: Be a Good Leader.

As a leader you have to be a really good listener. You need to know your own mind but there is no point in imposing your views on others without some debate. No one has a monopoly on good ideas or good advice. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them. As a leader you’ve also got to be extremely good at praising people. Never openly criticize people; never lose your temper, and always lavish praise on your colleagues for a job well done. People flourish if they’re praised. Usually they don’t need to be told when they’ve done wrong because most of the time they know it.

No. 5: Be Visible.

A good leader does not get stuck behind a desk. I’ve never worked in an office – I’ve always worked from home – but I get out and about, meeting people. It seems I am traveling all the time but I always have a notebook in my back pocket to jot down questions, concerns or good ideas.

If I don’t write them down, I may remember only one the next day. By writing them down, I remember all 10. Of course, I try to make sure that we appoint managing directors who have the same philosophy. That way we can run a large group of companies in the same way a small business owner runs a family business – keeping it responsive and friendly.

When you’re building a business from scratch, the key word for many years is “survival.” It’s tough to survive. In the beginning you haven’t got the time or energy to worry about saving the world. You’ve just got to fight to make sure you can look after your bank manager and be able to pay the bills. Literally, your full concentration has to be on surviving. Obviously, if you don’t survive, just remember that most businesses fail and the best lessons are usually learned from failure. You must not get too dispirited. Just get back up and try again.

Direct Mail is Adapting

In the August issue of Deliver Magazine, the editors make a case for Direct Mail’s future.

Direct mail is entering a new age. Long an effective marketing device, mail is now being linked with new technologies in astounding ways that improve its effectiveness and bring a new engagement. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Emerging technologies were expected to take what direct had done, and do it better, faster and cheaper. Consider the irony then that far from killing it off, digital is helping usher in this new era of direct mail.

Of course direct mail and digital have always been buddies. Mail was the primary way most of us learned about the Internet. (Remember those ubiquitous disks from a major online company?)

Catalogers have always known that mail can drive additional sales and online visits, and many digital entrepreneurs have turned to the mailbox to drive people to the inbox. The difference today is that marketers are now finding methods for combining digital technology with mail to increase the power of the message. Mail is no longer the carrier, the device you use to drive someone online. It’s the beginning of a conversation that carries on once the customer logs on.

Clearly, the efficiencies of mail — its laser-like ability to target customers, paired with a way to expand that message — is making marketers rethink their opinion of what many regarded as an “old” advertising vehicle.

It’s about the convergence of traditional and digital, yes, but that’s just the start. What we’re witnessing is a revolution that will launch mail into the next generation and beyond. It’s another lesson in the amazing adaptability of mail.

Marketers would be smart to take full advantage of this flexibility. And smart marketers do.

Integrating Campaigns Boosts Response

Marketing Experiments published an article with this headline, “How one company combined offline and online marketing to increase subscriptions by 124%”. The article told of the great success of using the same images and visuals in a mailing campaign and in the associated online content to increase new subscriptions.

The conclusion was that the offline direct mail marketing campaign led recipients to all areas of the online content. The two weeks that the mailing campaign was active drove significant sales activity throughout the company.

Create Great Feelings

BNET featured a post titled “No Budget? No Problem. How to Do More with Less.” The post highlighted an interview with adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management, Nancy Lublin. She retold a story about a time that President Lyndon Johnson visited NASA headquarters. While there, the President had a brief conversation with a custodian, who said, “I helped put a man on the moon.” Ms. Lublin suggested that organizations that want to create that same feeling in employees not underestimate the power of believing in something. She suggested that corporate goals be tied to whatever your company does best, whether it makes the fastest, cheapest, or the only product or service of its kind.

Is it time to solidify those great feelings about what your company does best with a direct mail piece?

Scott Berkun’s 10 Innovation Myths

BNET recently summarized a book on innovation, ‘The Myths of Innovation’ by Scott Berkun. Berkun is a writer and speaker and former manager at Microsoft:

  1. The myth of the epiphany: If many innovations are described as magical moments, the truth is often more complex: hard work is required and the Eureka moment often comes at the end of that process.
  2. We understand the history of innovation: Most of the stories we read about innovation aren’t real. Google wasn’t a search engine to start with, nor was Flickr a photo sharing platform. Most innovations are the results of errors, changes and corrections.
  3. There is a method for innovation: Despite our attraction to recipes, innovation is essentially a leap into the unknown, method for innovation is an oxymoron.
  4. People love new ideas: Changing one’s habits is always a challenge, and that is true of customers too, so says Geoffrey Moore’s ‘Crossing the Chasm‘. There is no end to the list of rejections and outright hostility from the critics that innovators have to face.
  5. The lone inventor: We like stories in which a genius single-handedly changed the world: Edison invented the electric light; Ford invented the automobile — neither is quite the case. More usually, successful companies are often started by a group of people, or by developing others’ innovations.
  6. Good ideas are hard to find: Ideas are everywhere, not just found in a brainstorm session.  Most come through trial and error. Picking other people’s brains and making notes of the ideas they have had but have never had the pluck to implement. “It would be so nice if we could…” is often my starting point for innovation.
  7. Your boss knows more about innovation than you: Berkun argues that managers can make decisions that others can’t but this doesn’t mean that they always know what to do. Managers can be afraid of innovation because it undermines their own position of authority.
  8. The best ideas win: There is a common assumption that the inventions for the job are the most successful. There are so many counter-examples such as the QWERTY keyboard , HTML and JavaScript and the M-16 rifle. There are seven factors that drive product success: culture, dominant design, inheritance and tradition, politics, economics, subjectivity and short-term orientation.
  9. Innovations happen by chance: You can’t produce great innovations unless you are able to spell out clearly the specific problems that the innovation is meant to solve and how it does it. Believing that serendipity plays a major role in innovation is a product of the myth of the epiphany.
  10. Innovation is always good: Rudolf diesel is said to have committed suicide when he realised that his invention would only be bought by the military. His innovation was being used to do harm and kill people, not to do good and improve people’s lives. Other examples abound quoted by Berkun in his book are DDT and personal computers which has created a digital divide in global society.

We hope you will be encouraged as you seek new innovative ways to reach and talk to your customers.