Innovate Like a Lean Startup

iStock_000009200146XSmallEnterprise organizations are taking a rigorous look at the principles used in the Lean Startup movement. They are carefully considering how they can incorporate the approach for building and launching new products faster to increase revenues and reduce costs.

Why? Speed of innovation and time-to-market can translate to millions in revenue gained or millions in lost opportunity costs for organizations of every size. One known fact for product-based businesses is that the typical time for market development can no longer take years for planning to launch. Competitive forces require organizations to be in cycles of continuous improvement and a constant state of innovation.

Some businesses acquire other businesses to gain momentum, others set up lean approaches within their product development and design centers. If enterprises want to compete with the “young and restless” entrepreneur community, they need to consider moving faster in definition, development and bringing new products to market.

The father of the lean movement is Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The Lean Startup methodology promotes shorter product development cycles driven by experimentation and validated learning. Instead of waiting until the final product is “complete” before launch, the lean practice recommends to use iterative releases to confirm adoption and use cases for a minimum viable product.

The constant develop-release cycle provides for ongoing feedback to modify and pivot to meet buyer and user needs faster. The goal for this technique is to speed products to market, maximizing early product adoption cycles and capturing the most market opportunity. This all translates to revenue.

The risks associated to this approach are primarily related to creating products that seem to never be finished. Consumers must have a strong loyalty to stay committed to products that are always upgrading. Businesses have to evaluate the risk-rewards of being first to market with products that are viable and utilize the information gained in the customer feedback process during each release to keep customers happy.

The growing consideration of going lean for many business owners today is whether they do so through an M&A strategy or reorganization of the product development operation.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers@jglass8

This article appeared in the CKS Advisors CKS Updates May 2013 Newsletter. Visit www.cksadvisors.com for additional information.

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What is Your Business IQ?

Fresh ideas, concept wordsThe question is not related to your personal or business intelligence, it is your business Innovation Quotient (IQ).  Your business IQ is connected to how you manage change and performance improvements in all facets of your organization, from operations to product. The origins of the word innovate go as far back as the 16th century.  It is simply introducing something new or different.

There are some companies that are perceived to “own” innovation and are frequently on lists of the most innovative companies. Expected and recognized mainstream mega brand companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Nike, Target, Coca-Cola recently topped Fast Company’s 2013 Most Innovative list, along with newer innovators like Pinterest, Sodastream, Tesla, and Yelp . They all have visible innovations and a high “product” IQ.  We come to expect they are doing something new and different all the time.  What we do not see is how these businesses innovative internally. How they get on these lists takes more than smart, cool products. We don’t know how often they change employee policies, management teams, adopt new software programs or retire practices that no longer get results – unless you are Melissa Mayer of Yahoo!

What is your business IQ?  How often are you “innovating” the 4 P’s: product, people, processes and policies?  If you were to rate how innovative your company is today, on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most innovative, where do you rank?  If you are never changing, you probably have a low business IQ.  If you are always changing, your business IQ should be close to 100.  The most realistic place to be, without completely disrupting or killing your business, is to aim for above 50.

If you are an innovative trailblazer with a high IQ, congratulations and press on!  It is difficult to stay on the forefront and constantly introduce “new” into a business. Trailblazers make change and as a result, often make money. They innovate, pivot and innovate again. Maverick companies with high business IQ are in a continuous cycle of innovation and change.

If your business is lacking in the innovation department, it may be time to set new company standards.  If you asked everyone on your executive team to provide you a recommendation of an old idea or way of doing something that needs to be retired, without measure of cost or risk to the business, what do you think would be on the list?  Perhaps it is time to find out.  Innovation begins by identification.  Where there is opportunity in your business to innovative, there is opportunity to improve.

Old or young, businesses need to always be monitoring their business IQ.  Innovation takes place within companies as well as in products and services.  Being an innovative company requires a constant and systematic evaluation of how the company will stay competitive and continue to grow or maintain sustainable profits.  The lack of innovation is a one-way ticket to performance doldrums.

Not all innovation is good and there are certainly small and big failures to note.  One point is certain, if your business is low on IQ, it is probably not maximizing the potential of products, people, processes or policies.  Start by asking the questions first, what needs to go? What is holding your business back?  Identify where you can improve your business IQ and then go — innovate!

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” – Peter F. Drucker

Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers @jglass8

Avoid Being Distracted by Shiny Pennies

iStock_000014402814_ExtraSmallA common challenge for business owners and executives is to avoid “tripping over shiny pennies.” What does that mean? It is the attraction and distraction of the newest, latest, greatest shiny object in our path.

We all seem to have a trained eye to spot the bright copper commodity at our feet, no matter where we are headed. The shine is overwhelming. We stop. We pick it up. We put it in our pocket. Then we declare our latest “find” to be lucky. A sign of great fortunes to come.

Shiny pennies reflect a fiery glow that is hard to avoid. Old pennies lack the shine and sleekness that keep our attention. They seem drab. They are tried and have traveled far, gathering dirt and grime along the way. They often find homes in jars, drawers and bottles. New pennies have power. We have willed the new penny with charm, a source of inspiration, as we traverse along the pathway of possibilities.

The penny is representative of all the ideas and opportunities that land in front of us, one right after the other. Every time we stop to evaluate a new idea, we are taking our attention away from our current plan of action. Navigating through the countless opportunities, or shiny pennies, requires determined focus and unbridled commitment to a planned strategy. Unfortunately, in business the sparkling object we stop and pick up is often worth exactly the minted value – ONE CENT. Consuming ourselves by the possibilities of what the perceived lucky penny might bring can actually cost a business many pennies, if not fortunes.

New is not to be avoided. New keeps us innovating and trying to do more. However, the overwhelming desire to continually focus on the new penny in our pocket, can be a big distraction from working on the current business plan. Shiny pennies have a time and place. Some will need proper evaluation and careful consideration. If you are feeling consumed by all the shiny pennies, set a time in your day or week to focus on these new ideas. Plan for “new” and budget accordingly. Use a defined process in your calculation of the promise and upside.

Apply the “penny test” in your course of evaluation.  What is the real cost associated to adding this penny to your jar of other shiny pennies?  Will you spend more in product development, sales and marketing?  Is it technically feasible? How will it change your business model? Is there an impact in supply chain and distribution?  How will customers respond?  Every new penny that you stop to pick up needs thorough testing and vetting with an effective cost-benefit analysis. The amount of work to evaluate the penny is expensive, so not every penny is worthy of your valuable attention.

Be cautious of the allure of the sleek and sparkly new penny. After all, it is just one cent – shiny or not.  If you are always tripping over pennies, you might fail to see the dollars falling from the sky.

“If had a penny for every strange look I’ve gotten from strangers on the street I’d have about 10 to 15 dollars, which is a lot when you’re dealing with pennies.” – Andy Samberg 

Jamie Glass, President and CMO at Artful Thinkers

Be in Your Business Now

As a business leader, you have three options of where to put your focus. The Past. The Future. The Now. Being present in your business now, gives you better leverage to improve from your past with the valuable foresight to manage risks and opportunities in your future.

21st century businesses require real time accessibility and responsiveness to meet the changing tides of immediate customer demands.  Innovation is quickly driving businesses forward and leaving many behind. Being disciplined on the point of convergence of past and future, enables you to put 100% of your business efforts into the business now.

It is important to know who you are, where you are coming from and where you are going. The past provides insights that can help your business pivot and shorten learning curves.  As a leader, you depend on the knowledge gained through good and bad experiences to improve performance and business outcomes.  There is only one path to progress.  You have to move from the past to the future through your business now.

Living in your business past, with regret or admiration, does not give you the necessary focus to be centered in the now. “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

Leaders that spend time relishing in their great accomplishments may be ignoring the unknown threats or countless competitors looking for better, faster ways to knock you off your pedestal.  Put the plaque on the wall, file the kudos and at-a-boys and know that your business needs you to be working on what’s next – now.

Likewise, if you are spending your business now redefining vision statements, missions and the company’s next BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), you may be missing the bumps and obstacles that threaten you from achieving important milestones in your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly journey.  Your revenues depend on you to zero in on the now.

One way to keep you in the now is to have a mission statement that puts you squarely in the present moment.  Starbucks puts its’ employee, partner and customer focus in their business now with their simple mission statement.  It says, “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

There is no arguing that you need business goals, strategies and plans.  The only way to work in the business now is to know where you are headed.  Every business needs short and long term goals.  There is a big difference in working in the future or working on the future — now.  You can be working on inventions that will change the world.  If you focus on how the world will be versus your invention, you will lose your edge in getting the invention to market.  A daydreamer trap for the creative mind.

Have you ever met an entrepreneur that has hundreds of ideas.  When you talk to them, they focus on all the ways they can improve on an idea, open new markets and make millions and billions — in the future.  They have 20 solutions for every problem.  Yet, there is always one thing that is missing in their enthusiasm for what’s ahead, their business now.

How is your business today?  What is holding you back this week?  What challenges are stopping you from being that billionaire NOW?  When you are steadfast on living in future, you are probably not paying attention to the work required to get you there.  If your employees always see you so far ahead of them, they often lack accountability to what they need to do to make the business a success today.

There is a fragile difference between a vision and an illusion.  Apple is a perfect example of a company dedicated to the business now.  We often look at each new product as ahead of it’s time.  Some will remark, how visionary!  Apple looks at their new products as another completed project. The next Apple inventions we will be enamored with are already in production.  Apple is constantly improving products ahead of their time by working in the business now.  They do so with an eye to the future, short term and long term goals; however, they produce and service in the now.  Innovation is part of their work culture.  We, their consumer, are focused on their future. That does not deter them from meeting our demands now, it only keeps us loyal.

Use your past to better predict your future.  It is good business intelligence.  Being present for your customers, employees, partners today is what has the greatest impact on revenues now.  Investing in your future, is working on your business now!  Don’t ignore what’s right in front of you.  What you uncover by working on the business now could define you and your company evermore.  

“Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickinson

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources

300X300Meet Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources on June 11, 2013 at the MIT Enterprise Forum and Arizona Commerce Authority Innovation Arizona Summit.  Full details and registration available at www.mitefphoenix.org.

There are many organizations in Arizona that support innovators, startups, entrepreneurs and the established business community from early stage to exit.

This is an easy to use reference of various groups, associations and service providers in Arizona that help businesses with financing, strategy, venture development, M&A, growth and mentoring services and business networking.

Accelerators, Venture and Growth Advisors

Investment Bankers (FINRA Registered)

Angel Investor Groups

Venture Capital Sources and Funds

Collaborative and Shared Work Space – Map

Associations and Support

Pitch Contests & Competitions for Capital

Chambers of Commerce

Additional Resources:
 If you know of an organization that fits into the categories above, you can add the reference in a comment or email jamieglass8@gmail.com.

This list is maintained by Jamie Glass, President of Artful Thinkers.

Talk is Not Cheap for Entrepreneurs

Planning, Strategizing, Ready to Change the World!

Countless CEO’s and leaders surround themselves with trusted advisers for counsel on a variety of business topics. Plunkett Research estimates $366 billion will have been spent in 2011 on global consulting, including HR, IT, strategy, operations management and business advisory services.

These billions are spent to generate new ideas, validate existing plans and provide strategic vision on solving problems and growing markets.  Most consultants dream of the engagement that is purely focused on strategy, 100% of the time creatively brainstorming on ways to be more, do more and get more.

Whiteboards filled with plans of grandeur, detailed reports, heart-thumping counseling sessions with these hired experts are alluring, especially to an entrepreneur hungry to take their business to the next level.  More revenue!  Less costs!  Decreases in human capital! Increases in productivity!

We have all seen the movie, hand-in-hand the strategist and business leader announce they have a better way. Bring in the team!  With the plan baked, the leader announces to his company, “I have a new idea and you will be responsible for the outcomes.”  The room is silent.

Why? A plan with little or no buy-in from the team sets off alarms.  The people who do the work know that every time they have to implement something new there are great costs.  Time. People. More time.  Did anyone ask for input from the doers?  Who is going to execute this new plan?  Who is going to be accountable?  It is probably not the consultant.

The first step to being a great strategic consultant is to build consensus within an organization.  Identify the problem, interview, validate, analyze and then present recommendations.  Buy-in is critical to achieve the best results. The most important person in every business is the person that actually does the work.  It is easier to get those that don’t do the work to agree with your plan.  What about the people who have to actually implement the program or new revolutionary way of doing business?  Consideration and respect for the doer’s role is essential.

When entrepreneurs take on counsel for one or more advisers, the amount of work that can be created for an organization and the doers can be overwhelming.  In fact, it can result in chaos, lost productivity, decreases in morale and lack of confidence in leadership.  You see, talk is not cheap.  Whiteboard ideas that go from chatter to “let’s do this” have a big cost to an organization.

Every time a consultant sells you on an idea, take the estimated “savings” and reduce by 75% and the estimated “costs” and double it.  It is not the intent of a strategic adviser to mislead his or her client, it is simply a factor of unknowns and assumptions made in the planning.

Leaders need to be able to evaluate every idea, every strategy and every problem solving plan that comes from outside consultants with great care and consideration to those that do the work.  Create consensus.  Ask the team to identify the risks and potential rewards.  Understand buy-in takes time and capital.

Business strategy consultants may be a very wise investment to spark innovation, challenge a new idea or share experiences to avoid pitfalls.  Define accountability in execution.  Too much time on strategy can actually be detrimental to any business. It is tactics that move the needle. Tactics are completed by doers. The “labor pool” gets the job done.

So, the next time a consultant sells you a “great idea”, remember talk is NOT cheap.  Be cautious, measure your tactics and define your outcomes.  Get buy in from your team before you “buy the plan” and know your costs, which are always far more than the just the consultant’s fee.

Young Entrepreneurs are Making Our Future

Recently, I was invited to speak to a group of high school students and their teachers at the ASU Polytechnic campus.  What I gained from the experience is far greater than what I was able to share through my decades of entrepreneurial successes and failures.

I was inspired.  I was motivated.  I was reassured.  Partly, it was the kids who like science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Partly, it was spending time at a progressive technology campus that fosters growth and innovation. Partly, it was through the introduction of Arizona State University innovators who shared their pitches about their latest ventures.

Were we this exciting, inventive and determined when we were in school?  Did we have this much wide-eye optimism that we could and would change the world?  They believe they can solve all problems.  They are not discouraged, they are encouraged.  I know our future is very bright, if we do not kill their momentum with “no” and “you can’t”.

Ask 19-year-old serial entrepreneur Daniel Brusilovsky, founder of Teens in Tech Labs.  He is working on his fourth start-up, or maybe he sold his fourth and is on his fifth and sixth.  His success to-date is dizzying. He is our future.  Standing on stage at the event, he was a true representation of what is possible in this world.  He has more connections to VCs and angels than most veteran start-up and CEOs could ever dream.  Why?  He’s cool.  He’s smart.  He’s ambitious.  He’s our future. Investment-wise, he has all upside!

I am absolutely certain that we are in great hands, if we really do want to be better and do more.  Along with Daniel, my enthusiasm grew after meeting other entrepreneurs like Marcos, who is enthusiastically working on customer retention, the Maker Pitch winners that are bringing to market a medical device to build arm strength for wheel-chair bound people, and the two students that are working on providing clean water around the world.  I say YES!  I say go!  How can I help?

And, then I met three men.  ASU students who shared their pitch with me and the co-founder of GarageBand.  They couldn’t look us in the eye, they were outside their comfort zone.  But they had unbridled motivation telling us about their business.  They are going to change and save lives.  They will provide people living with autism needed mentors via an online community.  They want to bring genius back into society, show autistic people how they can work together and give them access to tools they need to integrate successfully.  They know it’s needed.  They know people without autism do not understand and can not provide the help.  They each are autistic.  Yet, no matter how difficult and challenging it was to share their passionate business idea and plans, they did it.  They are determined.  They will do it.  I will find a way to help!

Let us “experienced” get out of their way, provide them support and harness their creativity.  Let us invest in their ideas and encourage them to do more.  They are our innovators.  They are our future.  If we do, we can all say our future is very bright!

My presentation to Making Your Future: http://www.slideshare.net/jglass8/future-is-solving-problems-2012