Innovating Wicked Problems

Wicked problems are problems that are extremely difficult or impossible to solve. The best example of this type of problem comes from a project I did with the Department of Education.

Wicked Problems

This project aimed to innovate kindergarten through 12th-grade education in the U.S. We ran a series of workshops in our attempt to transform education. The project turned out to be an extremely frustrating endeavor. Looking back, I realize that this qualified as a wicked problem.

This type of problem is something that is inconsistent and changes over time. People’s opinions on the problem also change over time. The ecosystem of people interested in education, such as policymakers, teachers, unions, and students, have different opinions and think theirs are superior.

A wicked problem also has a sizeable economic burden or risk. If you mess up education, you impact a generation of people and how they compete in the marketplace. Entangled with other problems by nature, wicked problems are complex.

Challenges

Wicked problems can often be overwhelming due to their size and complexity. The complexity of the problems comes from these entanglements. For example, if you look at the poverty problem, it is linked to education and linked to nutrition.

Each wicked problem has a set of organizations that are trying to solve the problem. Some try to solve poverty, education, nutrition, economic disparity, etc., from their perspective. Each group believes their approach is the right one. This process becomes part of the overall challenge in finding innovative solutions to these wicked problems.

Wicked problems are unique, and everyone frames them differently. Other things that challenge the solving of wicked problems are restraints and limited resources. These can come in the form of laws and contracts and limited finances and time limits.

Wicked problems are never entirely solvable. The education problems today are just different than the issues that existed when I was in school.

Strategies and Keys to Success

There are two keys to success when finding innovative solutions to these types of problems. Firstly, there is multi-disciplinary collaboration. There need to be experts in many different fields involved in these efforts. If you want to solve education, you need parents, nutritionists, economists, educators, etc.

The second key to success in this area is to have perseverance. Wicked problems are never done and require continuous improvement.

There are a few strategies to tackling wicked problems. The first strategy is an authoritative strategy, which gives a group or individual the responsibility of making decisions. This process simplifies the complexity problem, but some perspectives of the problem are left out.

The second strategy is a competitive strategy that puts opposing points of view against each other. This way presents many different solutions but creates a confrontational environment that reduces knowledge sharing.

The third strategy is collaborative, which consists of getting people to discuss and share their knowledge. The con here is that a collaborative approach takes a lot of time. Remember, don’t think about solving wicked problems. Instead, seek to find the proper intervention that will improve them and continue that cycle of improvement.

Summary

Let’s recap the discussion on wicked problems. The first element to innovating this type of problems is to recognize that there is an adaptive vision. It’s not about finding a solution but applying that intervention.

The second element is creating an idea-safe environment that brings people together. It is essential to experiment and try new ideas while encouraging social bonding.

The third element is to enable knowledge sharing. People often approach wicked problems with biases that don’t help the situation. It’s vital to encourage differences and frame them as strengths. One way to do this is to force face-to-face interaction. This type of interaction is the most beneficial for collaboration.

The last element is recognizing that execution is learning. Don’t focus on timelines and blueprints when dealing with complex problems. These things are often changing, so you need to be ready to adapt through each step you take.

To know more about innovating huge unsolvable problems, listen to this week’s show: Innovating Wicked Problems

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Box Think – Crafting The Problem Statement

Crafting well-written problem statements that focus the idea of creation are critical. Albert Einstein said, “If I only had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and five minutes finding the solution.” This week, we will discuss combining out of the box thinking with inside the box thinking, and how this can be used to create problem statements and solve your problems.

Problem Statements

Well-defined problem statements are freeing because they allow a team to innovate within certain guardrails. The goal of a problem statement is to solve a problem, remove a barrier, or improve an experience. One key characteristic of a problem statement is that it has to be solvable. It’s not just about solving the problem but being able to define it within the confines of your resources. Some problem validation questions need to be applied.

Firstly, do you think it is a problem or is it a problem? If you think it’s a problem, chances are it might not be. You are not a proxy for your customers. You have to prove that it is a problem by getting feedback from your customers. Secondly, find out how often this problem occurs and how long it has been occurring.

The elements of a problem statement focus on three key areas: who the customer is, what the problem is, and why it is important.

  • Who is the customer – Who is the target? Outline the broad or narrow customer segments. You need to define and describe the customer.
  • What is the problem – Define the problem that is occurring.
  • Why – Find out why it is crucial to solving the problem, and why you are spending time on it.

Examples

Let’s look at an example of a first draft problem statement. Middletown Hospital’s current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatments while substantially reducing the hospital’s earning potential and resource efficiency.

Let’s try to make this statement more concise. Middletown Hospitals’ current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness/efficiency, substantially reducing the hospital’s earning potential and resource efficiency. This statement is better as effectiveness and efficiency stand out, but we can do better.

Middletown Hospitals’ current diagnosis protocol and tools are resulting in low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency, causing up to 40% of its critical care patients painful extended treatment periods. I think this one is good because it defines the problem and why it is essential, but we’re going to try to make it a little better. Up to 40% of critical care patients are experiencing painful extended treatment periods due to low diagnosis effectiveness and efficiency of current diagnosis protocols and tools.

The one characteristic seen through these four examples is that they are getting shorter and more precise each time. Spending time thinking about the problem statement and making it efficient and crisp is critical. The example was an actual problem statement used to help an organization for ideation sessions they wanted to host.

Here is a template that I use when crafting my problem statements. The what (describe the problem) effects the who (describe the customer), resulting in (Describe why it’s important/what the benefit is).

Box Think

Box think is doing both inside the box thinking and out of the box thinking. Using this process, an organization can create a complete collection of ideas that lead to better innovations. The first step of box think is to define the problem statement. Secondly, you need to identify your industry/company constraints. What are the operational rules of your company and industry? For inside the box thinking, you want to operate within those constraints. For out of the box, you want to remove those constraints and modify the problem statement accordingly.

Now I am going to walk you through a real example from when I was at HP. Our laptops are highly personal items, therefore, need to be designed and marketed to target demographics to increase sales in next year’s peak selling season. The first constraint here was a time constraint. The peak selling season for laptops is the Christmas holiday season. The second constraint was the demographic that was going to be targeted. The product that ended up coming from this problem statement was a digital clutch designed by Vivienne Tam.

Recap

It would be best if you took the time to understand the problem before you expect your team to be effective at generating ideas. If you aren’t sure what problems to target, you need to ideate on the problems. People tend to seek solutions when they find problems, which can be difficult. You need to ideate problems and then rank them accordingly. Set aside an hour to identify the top one or two problems, which will turn into problem statements. Crank out as many problems that you can find without worrying about solutions. Rank your problems and then allow your team to vote. After you identify your problems, choose the goal and timeline that you will apply to move forward.

To know more about box think and crafting problem statements, listen to this week’s show: Box Think – Crafting The Problem Statement.

 

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Playing Personality Poker with Your Innovation Team

This week’s guest is involved in the innovation game for as long as I’ve been around. Stephen Shapiro is a leading speaker and author on innovation, who previously lead a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture. We will discuss creativity, reframing questions, and how diverse personalities can come together to create a thriving innovation team.

Innovation Team

Innovation Team

Creativity & the Innovation Team

Stephen says that we all start with a high level of creativity. We are all creative in our ways, but some people approach creativity differently. As we discussed in the previous show, every innovation team needs a variety of different players with varying levels of creativity to achieve success. Stephen says collaborating with teams is vital to innovation success. Finding what teams are and what they are not will help them surround themselves with the key members that are needed. What is one lesson you learned from your time at Accenture? Stephen says he learned early on that everyone is creative and innovative; we just contribute in different ways.

Personality Poker

Stephen created a card game to help bring different people together to achieve a goal, known as Personality Poker. The game has four steps to the innovation process, and four different styles are linking back to the steps. While in Vegas playing Blackjack, I got the idea of 4 steps, 4 styles, 4 suits, went home and grabbed a deck of poker cards, and got writing. The goal is for people to play to their strong suit, and to make sure your innovation team is playing with a full deck. Not playing a strong suit is where a lot of organizations are falling flat.

We tend to hire people and who “fit the mold” and result in the loss of breadth of experience and thinking. How would you compare this to something like Gallup Strengthfinders? Stephen says it’s not about what you are good at, but what gives you energy. We can be good at something, but it might rob us of our energy. The game helps you see what you do well and what gives you energy while telling you who you are and aren’t. How have these impacted teams? Stephen says there are 52 cards as well as words that describe behavioral attributes.

People can gift these cards to others, which allows you to see how you are perceived and how people remember you. It acts as a great conversation starter within organizations and helps to bring the right people to the right team. On top of that, the game emphasizes having diverse perspectives and appreciating what each person brings to the table.

Reframing the Question

What drove you to write your new book, “Invisible Solutions”? Stephen says that his previous book emphasized asking better questions but did not explain how to do it. I spent the last ten years building a toolkit on reframing problems and decided it was time to put it into a book. “Invisible Solutions” are the solutions right in front of you, but you can’t see them because you are asking the wrong questions. What approach do you use to craft good questions that people understand? I created a systematic approach to reframe questions, not to generate new questions necessarily.

What is the “aha” moment for people in figuring out how to reframe questions? Stephen says they first come to have a deep appreciation of how important it is. They also start to understand how difficult it is. People usually don’t want to take the time to stop and think about what the right approach is. Thirdly, people can’t stay in the question stage, and they just want to start solving the next one. Most people don’t spend enough time trying to solve the problem, and they just rush the answer.

Advice for the Listeners

What is one story that will give the listener some advice to take away? Stephen says a great example would be of a group called Pumps & Pipes in Houston, Texas. This group is composed of cardiologists who get together with people from the oil and gas pipeline industry. As far apart as those groups sound, they both work with the movement of fluid through a tube. In one story, a cardiologist was trying to figure out how to break up clots in the body. An oil engineer was dealing with the same issue from sludge and had developed a filter. They collaborated and were able to create a filter that breaks up clots in the body.

If you want to keep up with what Stephen Shapiro is doing, check out his website here. Follow him on LinkedIn here.

About Our Guest: Stephen Shapiro

Stephen Shapiro is a full-time innovation speaker and advisor to clients around the world. Before becoming a full-time speaker, Stephen created and led a 20,000-person innovation practice at Accenture. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, SUCCESS Magazine, CNBC, ABC News, TLC, and USA Network. He is the author of four books and continues to teach and lead innovation and problem solving everywhere he goes.

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn more about Personality Poker and how to come together as a thriving innovation team, listen to this week’s show: Playing Personality Poker with Your Innovation Team.

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Finding Creative Ideas with Fresh Eyes

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in the innovation game as long as I have. I’ve been thinking of creative ideas, inventing, launching services, and teaching others to do the same for many years. While this experience is good, it can sometimes be hurtful. Finding yourself doing the same thing over and over again can be tedious.

We all fall into this type of rut. People often do this with morning routines. The good part is you know what step is coming next. The bad part is when something happens to throw you off, you might overlook things. Routines are problematic when dealing with innovation. To successfully find creative ideas, you need to look at things with fresh eyes constantly. By looking with fresh eyes, I mean seeing something as if you are seeing it for the first time.

Breaking The Rut with Creative Ideas

How do you break the rut to cause your brain to think differently? You need to observe things, not just look at things and take in information. When I was at HP, I would observe customers while shopping for products at BestBuy. When they picked one that wasn’t an HP product, I would walk up to them and introduce myself. I’d ask them what made them choose that product over the HP one to understand their reasoning. Observing isn’t just about seeing with your eyes. It is also about asking questions and having an inquisitive nature.

Innovation Example

In some cases, solving problems with fresh eyes doesn’t work. In this case, you may have to bring someone in from the outside who has fresh eyes. Here is an example of this. A major manufacturer of potato chips was struggling with a problem: their chips were too greasy. They previously had too much salt on the chips, so they shook them. Tried this with the grease, but it did not work as well. They tried to shake the chips even harder, and it left them with broken products.

They finally decided to crowdsource, soliciting ideas from people on how to get rid of excess oil on the chips. The solution came from a concert violinist who realized the problem resembled something they had seen. When a violin hits a precise tone, the resonance of the tone will cause water to dance. The violinist proposed they play a specific note to get the oil to jump off the chip, and it worked. Here was a solution not found by those with years of experience but from an unexpected source.

3 Steps to Seeing with Fresh Eyes

  1. Be aware that you are seeing with old eyes.
  2. Build up the habit of looking at everything with fresh eyes.
    This means doing this differently, asking things differently, and asking different people.
  3. Ask for fresh eyes from non-experts. It is crucial to get in the habit of exercising your observation skills. Drive a different way to work or challenge a process you’ve used for a while. Ask someone who isn’t an expert to give you feedback, such as the potato chip manufacturer did. You can learn from people with different expertise, country, background, age, etc.

After implementing these things, you will begin to see with fresh eyes, which will lead to the creation of new ideas.

To know more about finding creative ideas with fresh eyes, listen to this week’s show: Finding Creative Ideas with Fresh Eyes.

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Is Creative Thinking Based on Nature or Nurture?

Is creative thinking based on a born ability, or can you learn it like any other skill? Is it nature or nurture? There is research that argues both cases, and I believe you can do both. I would say that we are all born highly creative.

Creative Nature vs. Creative Nurture

Children use problem-solving and their imagination every day. Here’s some insight into this creative transition from child to adult. In 1968 George Land tested 1,600 kids to analyze their creative transformation. He focused on three-five-year-old kids and used a creativity test developed by NASA. This test helped identify highly creative engineers, thinkers, and problem solvers. It had proven to be incredibly valuable in NASA’s recruiting process.

George Land tested the same kids when they were five, ten, and fifteen years of age. 98% of the five-year-old kids passed the test, 30% of those same kids passed the test at ten years old, and 12% of them passed the test at fifteen years old.

Two hundred eighty thousand adults took the NASA creativity test, and only 2% of them passed. The result of the study was the realization that non-creative behavior is learned as people age.

Unlearning Non-Creative Behavior

Non-creative behaviors fall into two categories: rules and regulations. The educational model that we use today originated in the Industrial Revolution. The purpose of schooling during this time was to produce good workers who followed instructions.

The question then becomes, can you teach creative thinking? I believe you can teach and learn creative thinking. However, you cannot use traditional learning methods like lecturing, reading, testing, memorization, etc. There are many “creative thinking” courses out there that I would call traditional such as one-day courses, talking head on a YouTube video, or a “guru” speaking on stage.

When it comes to creative learning skills, you first must unlearn by breaking old habits and patterns. Intensify the breaking of old habits by creating new muscle memory. Getting out of the comfort zone is also a big part of this, and it starts with humility. People often come into my workshops with an ego problem stemming from prior successes. Ego is one of the most significant barriers that leaders have when trying to rediscover their creative thinking. Overall, it’s an unlearning process, not a learning process.

Unlocking Creative Potential

You don’t become a Marine by reading a book. Instead, you go through intense boot camp experiences. Likewise, you don’t learn to be creative. You become creative from intense experiences. Becoming creative entails various challenges and tests that put you under stress. Remember the military model and how you can apply it to teaching and learning creative thinking skills.

You should also hang out with creative people that have experience because it creates community. In the Innovation Boot Camp course, we give those who complete the course a callsign— which signifies the experience they went through and achieved. The callsign is a symbol to wear. When we run into someone who has taken the course, we share that common experience of creating community.

The Innovation Boot Camp is a great way to unlearn bad behavior stemming from rules, regulations, and assumptions. The boot camp puts every student into a very intense experience. We start with a blank sheet of paper on Monday and a finished product to pitch on Friday.

To know more about creative thinking, listen to this week’s show: Is Creative Thinking Based on Nature or Nurture?

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Box Think – Combining out of the Box and Inside the Box Thinking

Box Think is doing both inside the box thinking and out of the box thinking. As we discussed in past shows, out of the box thinking is what most people use when they think of creative thinking. People often overlook what I call inside the box thinking and try to stay away from it.

Box Think

Box Think

Out Of The Box Thinking

The term “out of the box thinking” is a metaphor that means to think from a new perspective. It originally came from some management consulting firms that were trying to solve problems in new ways. The term was attached to a concept known as the nine-dot problem.

When challenged to do “out of the box thinking,”, you need to utilize risk-oriented thinking. You need to take all the risk constraints out of the scenario, whether it is financial, technology-based, etc.

Next, you need to rely on shared thinking. Shared thinking can be hard but is necessary to accelerate your ability to “think outside the box.”

Lastly, practice reflective thinking. We all love our ideas, as they are our “babies.” In some cases, we need to take a step back and take our emotions out of it. We need to distance ourselves from our ideas and look at other views as well. Set aside time to practice all of these thinking processes, and you will be able to successfully “think outside the box.”

Inside The Box Thinking

‘Inside the box thinking’ means to innovate within the constraints defined by the box. It is more generally described as constraint-based innovation. The idea behind it is understanding your constraints and utilizing those constraints to innovate beyond the box. The box can be an organization, government, or even a team. It defines where you are operating here and now. The box can contain inside constraints that you can change.

Most people tend to think that good ideas only come from out of the box thinking, which is not true. Inside the box thinking is to constrain the problem but not the potential ways of solving it. Inside the box thinking is also to constrain the atmosphere, but not the team. Inside the box thinking is restricting the resources but not the ways to utilize them.

Constraint-based innovation is hugely powerful in limiting resources and can empower a team to create something novel.

Box Think

Box Think is the process of combining BOTH outside the box and inside the box thinking. To ensure you have a complete view of all possibilities for innovation, you need to do both and this is done by crafting problem statements that challenge the teams during ideation/brainstorming to look at the problem in both ways.

For more on Box Think, then download the free resources here.

Download FREE Resources on Box Think

To know more about box think or combining BOTH outside the box and inside the box thinking, listen to this week’s show: Box Think – Combining out of the Box and Inside the Box Thinking.

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Inside the Box Thinking

Over the last few weeks, we have been focusing the shows on different thinking styles, such as out of the box thinking. This week’s topic is a different twist on what we have been recently discussing. People often overlook what I call inside the box thinking and try to stay away from it. On today’s show, we will discuss inside the box thinking and how it can be utilized in any team or organization to boost innovation success.

Inside the Box Thinking

Inside the Box Thinking

Inside the Box Thinking

‘Inside the box thinking’ means to innovate within the constraints defined by the box. It is more generally described as constraint-based innovation. The idea behind it is understanding your constraints and utilizing those constraints to innovate beyond the box. The box can be an organization, government, or even a team. It defines where you are operating here and now. The box can contain inside constraints that you can change. It may also include outside the box constraints that are out of your control. Let’s look at what those constraints can look like:

  • Strategy/Vision – Going into a particular market with a fixed and specific plan.
  • Policies/Procedures – Depending on how these are set up, they can be very constraining.
  • Decision Making – Who makes the decisions? What are the decision-making criteria?
  • Resource Allocation – How does your organization allocate resources (time, people, money, equipment)?

 The Seven Laws of Innovation

Dealing with inside constraints can be a tough task. What I like to call the seven laws of innovation [1], are laws that are critically important for inside the box thinking. Here’s what the seven laws mean:

  • Leadership – Having leaders within an organization that support innovation is critical. An alignment amongst the organization must happen to achieve innovation success.
  • Innovation Culture – Culture is key because an innovation culture encourages people to get out and try new ideas. Likewise, a bad culture can drag an organization down.
  • Resources – It is critical to have resources that are devoted to innovation, and to use your best resources. 
  • Patience – Inside innovation takes time. Stay committed.
  • Innovation Framework Process – You need to have an innovation framework process that is tailored to your organization’s culture.
  • Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) – What is the colossal objective that you are going to pursue? The goal needs a timeline and plan of execution.
  • Execution – Remember that ideas without execution are hobbies. There is no value without execution.

Outside Constraints

These can include competition, outside investments, partners/suppliers, government regulations, etc. I’ve worked in regulated industries, which have given me a good perspective on what this is all about. Outside constraints are typically outside of your control and have been imposed upon you. These don’t always have to be negative and can often be used to your advantage. Let’s look at what these are:

  • Competition – If your competitor is much larger than you, they can invest and fund a lot more than you. You can innovate around the economy of scale by blowing it up. Look at what Uber and Lyft did to the taxi and rental car industry.
  • Outside Investments – Innovation requires capital. It is challenging to do game-changing innovations without capital these days. That being said, there are a ton of different ways to get capital.
  • Partners/Suppliers – If you combine your innovation efforts with partners, you can bring products to market faster. I call this co-innovation, and I have done this a lot throughout my career. A common interest and culture are vital when partnering with someone.
  • Government Regulations – Governments can define regulations that restrict your access to raw materials/different markets. Sometimes you have to meet specific requirements to operate in a particular market.

Constraint-based Innovations

Like I mentioned earlier, people tend to think that good ideas only come from out of the box thinking, which is not true. Inside the box thinking is to constrain the problem but not the potential ways of solving it. Problem statements are critical because they radically increase the quantity and quality of your ideas. Inside the box thinking is also to constrain the atmosphere, but not the team. This is around culture and giving permission and autonomy to innovate. You don’t want to limit the team so that they can’t innovate ideas. Another part of inside the box thinking is restricting the resources but not the ways to utilize them. Constraint-based innovation is hugely powerful in limiting resources and can empower a team to create something novel.

To know more about inside of the box thinking or innovating with inside constraints, listen to this week’s show: Inside the Box Thinking.

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Source:
  1. https://philmckinney.com/the-7-immutable-laws-of-innovation-follow-them-or-risk-the-consequences/

Out Of The Box Thinking – Part 1

This week, we will cover a topic that is a bit of a spin-off from a show on buzzwords that I recently did. A listener of the show was confused about buzzwords and buzzphrases often used in the innovation space and sent me an email. We will discuss the buzzphrase “out of the box thinking,” analyze it, and discuss how you can think outside of the box to gain an edge in the world today.

Out of the Box Thinking

Out of the Box Thinking

Out of the Box Thinking

The term “out of the box thinking” is a metaphor that means to think from a new perspective. It originally came from some management consulting firms that were trying to solve problems in new ways. The term was attached to a concept known as the nine-dot problem. The idea is a 3 x 3 grid of dots formed in the shape of a square, equaling nine dots. The challenge is to draw a line through all nine dots without retracing over a previous line or lifting your pen. You need to use out of the box thinking to solve this problem. Initially, four lines in sort of a triangle shape were commonly used. Next, someone came up with drawing three-wide lines going around the box, touching all the dots. Then, someone solved the problem with one very fat line.

If you’ve been a long-time listener of the show, you have heard me give the challenge of answering what half of thirteen is. If you answered 6.5, you’d get an A on your math test. On an innovation test, I’d give you a C-, because you solved it with one easy answer. You could write it out as 1 and 3 and split it vertically, creating two digits. You could also write it out as Roman Numeral thirteen and split it vertically, which gives you eleven and two. There are thousands of different ways to answer these types of questions. The key is to not stop at the most obvious answer or to say it does not have an answer. Part of thinking out of the box is to think differently and understand the problem from a different perspective.

Thinking Styles and Types

We each have our natural thinking styles. It’s important to know what your preferred style of thinking is, and if you are a mix of different styles. Let’s dig into what those thinking styles are:

Synthesist – These people are creative and open to a wide range of ideas. The synthesist is an interesting type of person that is always exploring new things.

Idealist – These people are always working towards a big goal. They set the bar high for themselves and others around them. Idealists are great at achieving things that nobody thought could be done.

Pragmatists – These people take the logical approach to problem-solving. They tend to be focused on immediate results and driven by quarterly or annual achievements.

Analysts – These people are interested in the facts and data points. Analysts have a clear procedure for doing things. They love data and are big on metrics. These people get satisfaction from achieving success by using defined processes.

Realist – These people tackle problems head-on. They don’t feel challenged by everyday ambiguity. These are the people who get stuff done in an organization.

Once you know your style, you need to figure out how you can think differently to achieve success.

Thinking Differently

‘Thinking differently’ is the key question to tackle once you know your thinking style. I’m now going to share seven ways you can think differently. The key is to utilize all seven of these approaches to be free of blind spots:

Strategic Thinking – This helps prepare for uncertainty. It gives you a plan to prepare for the what-if situations. Strategic thinking puts you ahead of every situation that could occur.

Inquisitive Thinking – Question everything. This causes people to think differently and look at problems differently. This can be applied to everything. Ask questions to gain knowledge.

Big-Picture Thinking – This applies heavily to analysts. Think about the situation from another person’s lenses, whoever that may be. This gives you a different and valuable perspective.

Focus Thinking – This shuts out the operations and takes away distractions. You need time to think away from the everyday busyness of society.

How to Think Differently

When challenged to do “out of the box thinking,” there are a few ways you can approach it. Firstly, you need to utilize risk-oriented thinking. As a leader, you need to dream bigger than most. Whether you are a leader of teams or ideas, you need to think big. We tend to mentally apply a risk model to these situations, which needs to be eliminated from the thought process. You need to take all the risk constraints out of the scenario, whether it is financial, technology-based, etc. Once this is done, you will be more comfortable taking the necessary risks to be successful.

Next, you need to rely on shared thinking. Collaboration in the innovation space is critical. You need to get input from others because you are not always the smartest person in the room. Shared thinking can be hard but is necessary in some cases to accelerate your ability to “think outside the box.” Lastly, practice reflective thinking. We all love our ideas, as they are our “babies.” In some cases, we need to take a step back and take our emotions out of it. We need to distance ourselves from our ideas and look at other views as well. Set aside time to practice all of these thinking processes, and you will be able to successfully “think outside the box.”

To know more about your thinking style and how to think outside the box, listen to this week’s show: Out Of The Box Thinking – Part 1

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Looking Back at 15 Years of Killer Innovations

We are celebrating the 16th season of The Killer Innovations Show. This week, Bob O’Donnell, Silicon Valley veteran, the President, Founder, and Chief Analyst at TECHnalysis Research, joins us to discuss the history of Killer Innovations and some memorable moments throughout the history of the show.

Killer Innovations

How It All Started

Let’s talk about the backstory of the podcast. In 2004 while at HP, I spoke with my mentor Bob Davis. I asked him how I could pay him back for all the help he had given me in my life. He laughed at me and told me just to pay it forward. Fast forward to March 2005, where I recorded a little test show while in a bathroom at the Marriot Resort in Arizona, and the show was born. For me, it was all about innovation. Everybody thinks of me as being a tech guy because of my time at HP, but my background also covers things like wireless and mobile. It’s all about giving people an inside look at things and helping them take ideas and develop them into knockout products and services. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a lawn care service or a large multi-national company providing auto insurance.

Our listeners cover a wide variety of sizes and industries. Innovation is a skill that anyone can learn, and anyone can become proficient at it. We are all born naturally creative, and we need to find those channels of creativity to create and share the ideas running around in our heads. It’s all about taking those ideas and not letting the fear of failure stop you from successfully solving those problems.

FIRE

Recently, we’ve been working with Brother, the U.S Marine Corps and the Veterans Administration, helping the government understand innovation from a unique perspective. We teach a framework with four elements around the word FIRE. F stands for focus, and it’s about identifying where the upside opportunity is. Once you define the problem space, then you can get into the I which is ideation. There are a lot of different ways to come up with ideas. Each person goes off on their own and comes up with ideas. Then they come back and share those ideas with their group. The third step is ranking. Very few organizations participate in rankings. There are different processes for ranking ideas, but as a leader, it is vital to get your team involved in it. The last letter is E for execution. Without execution, it’s a hobby. For the Marine Corps, we can do focus, ideation, and ranking in two to three hours. That includes problem statement definition, individual and team brainstorming, ranking, and an early phase of execution.

Memorable Shows

Over the many years of the show, there have been many memorable shows and moments. I’ve had Peter Guber, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors on the show, and got to be in one of his books. Bob Metcalfe, the founder of 3Com which co-invented ethernet, was also on the show. In 2005 before iTunes was a thing, I started podcasting. There was a company called Odeo that specialized in podcatching so people could get podcasts on their iPods and phones. They reached out to me, asking for feedback when they were first conceiving their product. Odeo ended up becoming the social media platform Twitter. The show we did with Dean Kamen (FIRST/ Inventor of the Segway) recently was also a very memorable one.

Fan Moments

It’s motivating for me when I get feedback from fans of the show. My very first fan engagement was in London, back in the early days of the show. A guy reached out to me, asking if he could meet me. We ended up going to a pizza restaurant across the street from the hotel I was staying in. I thought he would be the only one there, but it turns out the whole restaurant was filled with fans of the show. Not too long after that, HP acquired webOS, and I announced that I would be flying to New York. When I got to the hotel at around 2 am, there were almost a dozen people I didn’t know waiting in the lobby to talk to me.

The Innovators Network

The podcast has growth going from an individual podcast to the Innovators Network and onto the Bizz Talk Radio. The Innovators Network launched around two and a half years ago. We wanted to create a platform allowing up and coming podcasters to get distributed on platforms like iHeart and Spotify. It is a host distributor for innovation podcasts such as Tech.Pinions, Killer Innovations, 5 Minutes to New Ideas, and the Kym McNicholas on Innovation podcast focused on medical-tech innovation. A few years ago we got asked to syndicate the The Killer Innovations Show on BizTalk Radio and are now on ~63 radio stations in the United States.

Glad you could join us for the kick-off of season 16. Thanks for taking the time to listen to the show. Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To know more about the history of the show and what we’re up to in Season 16, listen to this week’s show: Looking Back at 15 Years of Killer Innovations.

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The Optimal Innovation Team Size Is

On this week’s show, we will be discussing the most optimal innovation team size that will generate the most creativity and innovative ideas. This topic is something that would have helped me much if I had studied and learned it early on in my career. I will also discuss eight types of people that every innovation team needs to be successful.

Optimal Innovation Team Size

Innovation Team Size Study

Does team size have an impact? Recently, I read a study done by Jeanne Brett and Dashum Wang from the Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern University titled “If You Want Creativity, Keep Your Team Small”. This study said that large teams solve problems, and small teams generate new problems to solve. As the teams grew from 1-50, the levels of disruptiveness decreased. The large teams delivered value by developing established ideas and used smaller companies to be disruptive.

The issues that impacted teams as they got larger were:

  • Relational Loss – the perception of team members that they are working with little support from other members
  • Social Loafing – the tendency of the individual group members to contribute less than they would contribute to working in a smaller group or alone.
  • Lack of Development Maturity – larger teams tend to look to leaders for direction and motivation. Smaller teams frequently progress to periods of intense productivity fueled by “trust-based” relationships, structures, etc. With five or six people on your innovation team, it is easier to move forward with a common vision for the problem you are trying to solve.

How do you address the innovation team size problem? Through utilizing Multi-Team Systems (MTS), which is the process of breaking down a large team into smaller teams with some form of structural network. Implementing this process will bring efficiency and a higher rate of success.

My Experience with Innovation Team Size

We will now discuss my experience with team sizes throughout my career. My career started at Deltak, where we developed computer and video-based training. This publishing operation required large teams. Later in my career, I joined Thumbscan, which had mid-sized teams of a couple of dozen people, and the lack of efficiency frustrated me. Through my frustration, I branched off to create a product called PCBoot, which ended up winning product of the year at Computer Dealers Exhibition (Comdex), the precursor to Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It took me by myself a long time to build that product to the point where the parent company ran out of money. Through these times, I realized not only how important a team is, but the size of the team as well.

Other Teams

Let’s talk about other teams outside of my direct experiences like Apple Macintosh in the 80s. They came out with the Apple 1, 2, and then the 3, which was not very successful because a large team developed it. Apple’s success came when Steve Jobs hand-picked his MacIntosh team and locked the doors to anyone outside of the team. He separated the team from the larger organization to reduce the risk of large team influence, and it paid off. Now let’s look at the Manhattan Project. It started with a small team and split up into smaller teams in different areas focused on various aspects of the project. Each team knew what they had to generate to contribute to the larger overall objective, and they were very successful. When teams are broken down and given a specific objective, they become efficient in obtaining their specific goal.

My Optimal Innovation Team

 I’d like to use a religious reference here. Jesus had twelve disciples, so why would I try to handle more than he could? Throughout my career, I’ve learned that my optimal innovation team size is in the 6-8-person range. If I have more than that, I tend to lose focus and feel less engaged. I would argue that nobody should have more than twelve people directly reporting to them. While the number is essential, the make-up of the team is also important. As a leader, it is your responsibility to bring together an innovation team with the right skillsets.

Here are seven people that I believe are core to any high-impact innovation team:

  • The Visionary – the person who is the heart and soul of the idea.
  • The Leader – the person who recruits and motivates the best possible team.
  • The Mother – the person who is sensitive to everyone and makes sure everyone is taken care of.
  • The Energizer – the person who will get it done, sometimes at a cost. They pump energy into the team
  • The Customer Advocate – the person who advocates for the customer. They are the voice of the customer on the project.
  • Radar O-Reilly – (from the movie and TV show Mash): The person who can find/secure anything you need by understanding the process in an organization.
  • The Designer – the designer is no longer a behind the scenes activity.

 Bonus:

  • Neurodiversity – get people who think differently than you on your innovation team. They can see what others don’t see uniquely.

With these key players on your innovation team, you are that much closer to creating that game-changing product or idea.

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know. The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com, or you can go to PhilMcKinney.com and drop me a note there. If you are looking for innovation support, go to TheInnovators.Network or want to be challenged to develop the next big idea, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops. Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn more about optimal team sizes, listen to this week’s show: The Optimal Innovation Team Size Is.

RELATED:   Subscribe To The Killer Innovations Podcast