Does Saying No Hurt Innovation?

February 25, 2009

2035781407_23e1c60febNO. It’s one of the first words we learn, after the occasional “mom”, “dad”, and right in line with “mine”.  It’s a strong word, one that can hurt, offend, and put off.  But does saying no mean that you are not contributing to innovation?

In my mind, the process of innovating in an organization is a mostly positive process.  It takes inspirational leaders, empowered workers, continued discussion, creativity and and constant flow of ideas. Shooting down ideas only hurts the process, because it blocks the way to getting to the right idea.  So, in a sense, when coming up with new strategies, the word “no” may be unnecessary.

But there is another side of innovation.  When companies are struggling to perform at a level of success that they are accustomed to or striving towards, something may be wrong. It may be organizational or administrative, it may be a disconnect between the brand and the consumer, it may be a failing process or product line.  Whatever it is, it takes an innovative focus and strategy to be willing to change something that is not working.  And in that sense, pointing out negatives can be very important.

When an online company is making content too hard to find, saying “our user interface is no good” is important.  When a car company is on the verge of complete failure, saying “we need to get rid of some of these lines” is important.  And when companies are trying to restructure, reorganize, or redevelop certain systems, someone has to have the courage stand up and disagree when necessary.

Not all ideas are good ideas.  Some ideas are too expensive, will take too long, or are just not possible.  Saying the word “no” is a bad way to shoot something down, but we have to be willing to object to things for real innovation to be possible.  If something is not right, say it.  Then we can start the process of fixing it.

Don’t be afraid to disagree.

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Get Over the Fear – Change Something

October 16, 2008

Innovation is, in essence, change. And change has a way of striking people in an odd way. Change is too often regarded as unwanted, unnecessary, and scary.

In businesses and industries that have been around the block, change is often shot down. People equate change as an admission of wrongdoings, or a waste of money and resources, or a burden.

And the people that suggest or bring about change, take the risk of being shunned or hated for it. The reason that the US economy has led the way is that we accept failure. We see challenges and opportunities as good things, and we praise those that take chances. You can fail, but still create real opportunity. Failure is not the end. But it is still far too hard to change things.

The greatest business innovators in history have had to face the doubts of their peers. And often, those doubts turn to personal attacks. This has led to a fear of standing out, or being different.

Henry Ford faced criticism for creating a car for the masses. There is no need for everyone to have a car, they said. Steve Jobs faced criticism for creating personal computers. No one will want a computer in their household, they said. “THEY” were wrong.

Realize this, most often, the people that are against change are those that are profiting the most from the way things are. They are not thinking about what is best for the industry, or the people they serve, they are thinking about themselves. And they see change as harmful to them, because they are so good at the status quo.

It takes a strong mind and an even stronger will to face these doubters head on. If you have an idea, you have to know that somewhere, someone will not like it. Don’t be afraid of defending yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand toe to toe with the status quo. Don’t be afraid to be different. That is how things get done, and that is how we, as a country, move forward.

10^100 Innovators

September 25, 2008

Though I am admittedly a little late on this one, I feel that this project deserves as much attention as it can get. And if my blog can alert one extra person to it, I will be satisfied. I hope that person is you.

The project I am talking about is Google’s “10 to the 100th”. Announced yesterday, Google is calling on the world to come up with the best ideas for helping people. They want user submissions of ideas, projects, organizations, inventions, etc. that they will fund to the tune of $10,000,000.

Submissions are already being taken, and will continue to be accepted through October 20th. Once they are all collected, they will be voted on by users, than reviewed by judges to determine 5 finalists. The goal here, according to the website, is come up with ideas big or small that will help a large amount of people. The ideas are broken down into categories, such as energy, environment, and health.

“There are so many great ideas out there that never get funded”, the website claims, “This offers people a way to voice their ideas to the public and have a chance to do something significant with them.”

I love this project. From Google’s end, they get interaction with internet users in a fun and interesting way. They use a contest to get ideas, and offer some great rewards to the most innovative people on the web. From a user’s perspective, this gives people a voice. The winners will be those people that have had this one great idea for a long time and nowhere to turn with it.

As you may have guessed, I have already turned in one suggestion. I would love to hear what you think about the project, and hear any submissions that you have entered as well. The best ideas may come from collaboration anyway, as most great innovations do.

Woot, A Million Dollars, and Simplicity

July 23, 2008

The web has paved the way for some of the greatest innovations.  We now have new ways of doing things that are unlike anything we have ever seen before.  The mail became email, which led the way for chat rooms, instant messaging, online telephone services, and social networks.  These are all major things that have developed out of grand ideas and designs.

But not everything has to be so big or daunting.  Take a look at  What they have done is successfully create a website that gets a huge amount of traffic each and every day by doing something unique.  They offer one, and only one, product a day at a discount.  The product changes every night at midnight, and a rush of visitors come to check out the deal and see if it’s the one for them.

The traditionalists among us would say, why limit yourself to selling one product?  Why not offer a variety of deals and draw in more people, increasing the chance that each visitor will make a purchase?  Well, quite simply, that has been done to death.  Why compete with when you can create something that much more remarkable?  The same people don’t go to on a daily basis.  Woot has created something with a very loyal customer base that continues to spread the idea around.

Another example is “The Million Dollar Home Page“.  Here is a site that bought an interest-peaking url and sold ads.  That’s it.  The page is one million pixels, covered in ads, with each pixel costing one dollar – hence the million dollar home page.  It’s a simple idea with guaranteed revenue and easily spreadable story.  It gets attention.

You don’t have to solve world hunger every time you innovate.  Create something unique, no matter how simple, and run with it.  The web allows us to do this quickly and easily, at a fraction of the cost.  Create something that makes people say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Throw Gas on the Fire

July 15, 2008

Fire plus gas equals bigger fire. Too often we have heard the phrase “throwing gas on the fire” in a negative sense. When things are going wrong, people tend to try and douse the flames any way they can, often leading to more problems. Hence the phrase, instead of putting out the fires, they are causing them to grow.

However, let’s take a look at this from the other side of the spectrum. When you start a business, or you have an idea, it’s like lighting a match. At first the idea is small, though to you it may be big. No one else can really see it, but you know it has the ability to grow.

Slowly but surely it does start to grow and spread. Your match has started a fire. Now what are you going to do to keep that process going? Throw some gas on it! Throwing gas on the fire is not forcing it to grow, it is helping the process along at a faster rate. Spread the fire by letting the forces of nature act on it.

Too many people and small businesses see that are starting to get the word out or starting to get some attention and get comfortable. You never want to get comfortable. When you are comfortable you sit back and relax, just waiting for the idea to take off. Instead, get excited. Get motivated. Get some gas and throw it over the flames.

How, you ask. Well you can come out with new products to keep customers interested. You can add upgrades and features to get noticed. You can start collecting feedback to get people involved. You can get media exposure to capture new audiences. It doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you are spreading the fire. Doing nothing smothers the fire. And when that last flame goes out, you’re left in the dark wondering how it all came crashing down when all you had to do was add more gas.

Be Innovation

June 12, 2008

Innovation drives cultures.  It drives people, it drives commerce, it drives society.  Innovation, at its core, lives within each and every one of us.  It is the ideas deep down within that are bubbling to come out.  It is the knowledge that keeps building and growing until we unleash it on the world.

Today, the world is ready for innovators.  People that take strides to shakes things up and move us forward as a community.  Innovation can take place in all industries, in all aspects of life.  Real innovation not only leads to a more efficient society, but a stronger, healthier society.

When a car company tells you that they are changing the way you drive, they are talking about innovation.  They are creating a more comfortable ride with better fuel efficiency.  Not only are the saving you money and stress, they are creating something that makes the world a better place to live in.  When a small company in Toronto develops a battery that is as powerful as a gas engine they are innovating.  They are breaking through common knowledge and teaching us how to move forward.

But innovation does not happen on its own.  It takes people.  There is a line from the movie “Bruce Almighty”, though less than an average movie, that captures my point about innovation.  Jim Carrey says “Be the miracle”.  Don’t just sit back and wait for it to happen to you, make it happen.  And that is the theory about innovation.  If everyone sits around expecting someone else to change the world, nobody will.  You have to live and breathe innovation.  You have to be innovation.

This blog is dedicated to the innovator in all of us.  I invite collaboration, comments, thoughts, and ideas.  It is the social media we embrace that allows us to share ideas, to share knowledge, and to create a movement.  People, working with other people, can achieve anything.  A flow of information, at its center, is the creation of opportunity.

Innovation takes action.  Do it, live it, be it…