What Makes a Leader

June 29, 2008

The qualities of a strong leader are hard to quantify.  Whether you are leader of an organization, the leader of a nation, or just the leader of a family, it takes a variety of qualities to get the job done.  Many have written about the characteristics that you must possess to lead people to accomplish great things.

Can someone learn to be a leader or are the great leaders born that way?  I cannot answer that question, however there is one thing that defines strong leaders the world over.  It is an innate ability to empower the people around you.  You do not always have to know what to do, or be able to see the right moves.  But the ability to surround yourself with the right people who can get the job done, and then let them do what it is they are there to do, will always give you better results than you would get on your own.

Empowering others involves providing the right structure to give everyone in an organization a voice.  The free flow of information will always result in new ideas and new direction.  As a leader, you have to have the foresight to clear the path and allow others to speak for you.  You have to be confident in yourself and others simultaneously.  You have to let your ego aside and allow things to happen without interference.  The greatest leaders have not always come up with the ideas that lead to innovation, they recognize others who have the ideas and put them in a position to speak.

When people feel free to express themselves, they have the confidence to get things done.  By limiting the voices of those around you, you narrow the possibilities and lead to compromised decisions.  To be a truly great leader, you have to be able to encourage growth within every aspect of an organization.  Then, and only then, will the greatest ideas make their way to the front of the line.

With this is in mind, it seems that great leaders can learn the skills necessary to lead.  Some people are born to lead, but we all have the ability to choose to lead.  Leadership is about people, and the people you lead will guide you along the way.  Empower those around you and you will find that they have the solutions you are looking for.

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“Good Enough” is Never Good Enough

June 27, 2008

Innovators are defined by their need to constantly make things better.  Anyone who uses the phrase, “good enough” will never be looked at as an innovator.  That phrase should be struck from your vocabulary if you want to call yourself an innovator.

Do you think Steve Jobs would stop making the iPod better because it is good enough?  Do you think Honda will stop working with Hydrogen Fuel Technology because gas is good enough?  Do you think Google will ever stop working on their search engine because it is good enough?

If you ever want to create something that is truly outstanding, take a lesson from the great innovators and minds of our time, never give up.  Things can always be better, faster, more useful.  Things can always improve in some way.  Never stop inventing, for the job of an innovator is never over.


Reinvent the Steal

June 25, 2008

In reality, there is not a lot to this innovation thing.  Have you ever been sitting around and thought to yourself that there was a company that could be doing something, just one thing, differently?  If they did this one thing maybe they would be more successful, more efficient, better for consumers, etc.  Well that is an opportunity to innovate.  If they aren’t going to change, maybe you could.  Or at least force them to.

Everybody will tell you that you do not have to “reinvent the wheel” to find success.  There are not a lot of completely original ideas left in the world.  Chances are, most things have already been invented, or at least tried before.

Reinventing the steal is all about taking an existing an idea and making it your own.  Companies thrive on competition, and, in most cases, are defined by it.  There is room to improve on all the ideas that are already being practiced.  If you are looking to start a company, look to the companies that have found success.  Think about the things that they are not doing well, and build a company that competes.  Differentiate yourself on the one or two levels that you know you can do better.

This can work on all levels, and we have seen it time and time again.  Google was not the first search engine, but they do things differently, and better, than the others.  Starbucks was not the first chain of coffee shops, but they created an image unlike all the others.  This is not the first blog about innovation. Now its your turn. 

Take an idea that you like, that has worked, and make it better.  Change the marketing approach, change the level of service you provide, change the way your organization is structured.  These can all lead to success in a competitive marketplace.  Don’t ever be afraid to test the big boys, there is plenty of business out there for all of us.


Hydrogen

June 23, 2008

At the Los Angeles car show last week, many car companies were showing concept cars that promised cleaner energy.  There were numerous hybrids, electrics, and fuel cell cars on display.  Many of them were only concepts with no real plan for mass production.  And most of the car companies discussed technologies that seemed too behind the times, or too unrealistic to make it to market.

Honda was the one company that stood out from an innovation perspective.  They introduced their hydrogen fuel cell prototype.  The car, which was said to be released to a select few people in 2009 for testing, was the ultimate “clean” automobile.  It was sold with an at home hydrogen fueling station that really stood out to me.

The fueling station was a simple unit, small enough that one person could carry it themselves.  All you need to do is fill it with water and fill your car before you drive.  In addition, the extra energy created could be used to power a part of your house.  In total, Honda claimed that this would cut down your entire energy costs by about 50%.  Genius!

While all the politicians and other car companies dispute the reality of hydrogen on the basis of the lack of a large infrastructure, Honda creates the infrastructure along with the car.  They predict that if everything goes well, the cars will be mass produced by 2011.  And the only thing they give off is water vapor, now that’s innovation we can all get excited about.

Now its up to you, the consumers, to change the way you think about cars.  Things will only get better when we reward the companies that create change.  Honda is creating change right before our very eyes.  Let’s create a market for them.


The Age of the Startup

June 21, 2008

It is easier now than ever before to start your own company.  The playing field is wide open and waiting for your idea.  The barriers to entry are lower than you think, and the startup costs are less than they used to be.  In fact, in most industries, new ways of doings things make the initial startup easier and more convenient than even 5 years ago.

So what does this mean?  It means that differentiating yourself is more important than ever.  The fact that it is easier to start a company means that more and more people are doing it.  To be successful, you need to be doing something that stands out from the crowd.  If you are not different, you are going to get lost in the shuffle and miss out on all of the fun.

Most people are afraid to stand out because it means taking a chance.  It means that if you fail, you fail in the public eye and you will be embarrassed forever.  We have this underlying fear that we will be outcast from society and seen as a fool for the rest of our lives.  Wake up!  It’s time that you realize that if you fail, you are in the majority.  We all fail.  People and businesses fail in this country every day.  Does that mean we all crowd around them and pelt them with cabbage and tomatoes?  There is no public shunning that takes place, and most often these same people or companies come back with a successful venture later.

Get over your fear of standing out, and you will free yourself up to rise to the top.  Get people talking about you because your product is so new, or your marketing is so fresh, or your brand is so simple.  The more people talk, the more opportunities you have to convert them into customers.  Innovation does not have to mean a brand new product that no one ever thought of before.  It can be the way you handle your operations, the way you help your customers, the promotions you offer, etc.  So if you decide to take advantage of the “open” market and start a business, make it worth your while, stand out.


Change, Change Agents, and Changers

June 20, 2008

Innovation is all about the guts to inspire change, and the guts to actually change the way you do things yourself.  Whether it is in a big company, at a small startup, or in a political election, change is a powerful word.  It is even more powerful of an idea.

Sometimes change comes from the top down.  Sometimes it comes from the bottom up.  But I think the best kinds of change are two-sided.  It takes the people to initiate the change, and then the people that follow them.  It takes someone to change the way something is done to get people to change the way they do it.  And it takes the people to do something differently, to get someone at the top to provide them a means to do it differently.

The change agents are those people that will openly try to change things.  They put themselves out in the public eye and talk about how differently things could be.  The changers are those that will follow them.  Changers are the people that are so inspired to actually put words into action.  In Barack Obama’s campaign, we proclaim him to be a changer.  When really, it takes the people that believe in him to actually get things done.  If no one believed in him, the change he talks about would never happen.

When a company changes the way you buy products, it takes the consumers that believe in the new system to make it work.  When people decide they want a new way to get information, it takes someone at the top to deliver it to them.  It is a give and take game that ends in innovations on a grand scale.  Don’t look for one person to change the world, because although change agents can make us believe, it takes the efforts of the masses to create a real difference…


Innovation for Innovation Sake

June 18, 2008

I talk alot about innovation.  It takes a lot to be innovative, and I congratulate all those people and companies who continue to innovate in ways that make our lives easier every day.  But sometimes, and its rare, you have to be wary of the innovation for innovation’s sake mentality.

When bigger companies try to change the way they do things, sometimes they abandon the very customers that they are trying to help.  This is a common problem in large companies that are trying to release new products or services.  One example is Microsoft with the release of the Vista operating system.

First, I have to commend a company like Microsoft for continuing to change things in a market that they have dominated for years now.  But Vista was an innovation that should never have made it to the public.  It takes a certain amount of control and foresight to see when something is not going to work, and with Vista, I strongly believe that someone should have seen the direction it was heading and called it off.

The goal of Vista, as I see it, was to make an operating system built around the company’s strengths that is more user friendly and as close to an Apple product as Microsoft has ever come.  They wanted to please everyone at once to try to hault the sudden growth in popularity of Macs.  However, in doing this, they left their strongest and most loyal customers high and dry.

Microsoft has always catered to big businesses.  The biggest market for Microsoft products are large companies that continue to use updated Microsoft products within their organization.  However, Vista does not address the very things that businesses want.  In fact, it would not make sense for any company running Windows XP to switch to Vista, even without all the complex errors that come with it.

Microsoft abandoned their core market by trying to do something that was very different than what had worked for them in the past.  A company like Microsoft, facing new, feircer competition has to do something different.  But, changing their core product to the point that it is unrecognizable is not the kind of innovation that they should aim for.