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Date: Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 23:45
As I've been working our Lean Canvases with our Product Managers at Return Path, it has occurred to me that at scale, ownership of the Lean Canvas may not reside solely with the Product Manager. While the Lean Canvas works great for entrepreneurs or startups where everyone wears lots of hats and ownership of components of the business model usually reside with the founder or the product manager, at scale I don't think this is optimal. At scale, there are experts in a larger company that may be better positioned to contribute to or own certain sections of the Lean Canvas.

I think the Hollywood Model may work best for the Lean Canvas at scale. In this sense, the Product Manager would act as the director, owning the story and the final production of the Lean Canvas. But they should leverage experts in their organization much like a movie director would leverage a lighting director, a cinematographer, a sound editor, or a set designer in their production. At Return Path, we have General Managers who own the business around each of our products. As such, they own our KPI's, cost structures, and revenue streams. So it would be logical that they own and contribute to the Metrics, Cost Structure, and Revenue Components of the Lean Canvas. In the same sense, we have product marketing experts and sales operations experts that can own or contribute to the Unique Value Proposition, the High Concept Pitch, and the Unfair Advantage components of the canvas. GM's and Sales Operations might own the Channel section. And the PM/UX pair would own the Customer Segment, Early Adopter, Problem, and Solution sections. Ultimately, the PM should coordinate and pull together all of these experts to provide their valuable insights into each canvas section and produce a final coherent product and business model story.

The key here is that Product Managers in a larger organization should recognize the experts they are surrounded by and leverage their strengths and expertise to build the best business model possible for your products.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Lean, Lean Canvas, Lean Startup, Product..."
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Date: Monday, 25 Mar 2013 16:31

All too often in product management, we're focussed on the speed of finding a solution to a problem. And all too often, we choose the obvious/easy solution to what appears to be the problem. However, if we slow down just a bit, do some diagnostic thinking and changing our workflow from problem-solution to problem-diagnosis-solution, we might provide a much more valuable solution to our customers.

In a recent HBR video, Ranjay Gulati gives a great real world example of why diagnostic matters. Now granted, it's a medical example, but it illustrates the point really well. Gulati was out skiing for a day without drinking much water or eating much food. When he was flying home later that day, he began to feel weak and eventually passed out. Three doctors attended to him and immediately rushed to the conclusion that he was having a heart attack based on the symptoms they observed. A fourth doctor talked to Gulati's seatmate and asked about how Gulati was behaving before he passed out. Based on the facts he gathered, the fourth doctor arrived at the conclusion that Gulati was dehydrated and had low blood sugar levels. His solution was to give Gulati orange juice instead doing CPR on him. Luckily for Gulati, the fourth doctor used diagnostic thinking and did not rush to the immediate, obvious solution.

As product managers we can learn a lot from this story. In the heat of the moment, it's easy to go from problem to solution very quickly. As product managers, we need to slow down and be diagnostic. Don't respond to customer symptoms, think about the cause of the symptoms. That's where our best solutions come from.

In the video, Gulati mentions using the case method for diagnostic thinking. In it's simplest form, the case method looks like this:
  1. Understand the problem
  2. Devise an approach
  3. Gather and analyze data
  4. Develop hypotheses
  5. Gather data to validate hypotheses
  6. Iterate on steps 3-5 until the root cause of the problem is found
  7. Devise a solution to address the root cause of the problem
Overall, this doesn't look very different from what we do in lean product management. We have a basic understanding that a problem exists. We come up with an initial assumption of what that problem is and then we do some initial investigation to gather basic data for analysis. We develop our Lean Canvas based on these analyses and develop a hypothesis. We move to a validation stage to either  prove is disprove our hypotheses. If we disprove our hypotheses we iterate and refine our hypotheses and keep testing until we find a real root cause of a problem our customers care about. Only then do we start thinking about what the solution is that addresses the root cause of the problem. So in a very real sense, lean practices incorporate diagnostic thinking by design. And that makes all the difference in how we define meaningful solutions and develop our best products.
Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Lean, Product Management"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Dec 2012 18:00
In all of the busy-ness and chaos of our daily lives, sometimes it’s very hard to just stop, breathe, and take a second to relax. That makes it difficult to be in the moment and really be open to the goodness that surrounds you everywhere. Losing touch with stillness and the “now” of things can make us really unbalanced and I think we miss so much of the good in our own lives just because we’re missing this moment as it passes us by.

So, how can you stop the frantic world we live in and become more in the moment? I like to use a short, simple meditation that I found in a great book called Ten Zen Seconds by Eric Maisel. Very easily, I close my eyes and repeat the following while I am deep breathing:
(Deep 5 second breath in) “I am completely”
(Slow 5 second breath out) “Stopping”
Believe it or not, this simple little ten second exercise and meditation really calms things down and re-centers you here and now, in the moment. I’ve used this while working, cycling, running, and especially at home to just slow things down for a moment to allow me to focus on the goodness that is happening right now. It can mean the difference in noticing the good ideas of my colleagues, the beauty of the mountains that I cycle and run in, or the laughter and happiness of my children. It doesn’t take long meditations and lots of time to relax and be present in your life. The next time you're feeling frantic or disconnected, breathe in, breathe out and try completely stopping for ten seconds.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Mindfulness"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 21:09
It's budget season. The economy is in the tank. You know budget cuts are are on their way. How do you make sure your team and projects survive? Prove that agile increases value. That's exactly the message Richard Leavitt and Michael Mah presented this morning. But, to get your executives to keep your team and your funding, they don't really need to understand agile per se, they need to understand the financial value of agile. That's what they understand and care about. The numbers. So Richard and Michael gave the numbers and explained how to talk to the C-level when trying to show the advantages of agile development practices.

The main question: What are the documented financial returns of agile? Here are the 3 main financial impacts that your executives will understand:

IMPACT #1: Higher, faster ROI

It is rarely possible for traditional projects to return investments within a year. Executives are unwilling to fund projects with long ROI. Agile shows immediate ROI. Based on data from their study, Richard showed that traditional projects show about a 33% ROI after a year. The big risk in traditional projects: We never really know how we're doing because we haven't delivered anything at the beginning. The big question: When are we going to deliver? These projects self-fund only at the end of the project when they deliver...maybe.

Show how agile is different: Agile releases value immediately and incrementally. This has a dramatic effect on the ROI case. With agile, self-funding hits very early in the project and profitability hits very quickly. Overall, agile shows a 12X ROI versus only 33% on traditional projects. So, agile has a much higher ROI than traditional projects. Agile uses less income and hits profitability almost immediately. Your execs should like that!

IMPACT #2: Build less, deliver more

Waterfall projects cost 2X what they need to because we're building wasted functionality. We've all seen the Chaos Report and we know the numbers very well by now. The main Chaos Report number to know: 64% of features developed in traditional projects are rarely or ever used. Additionally, there is are 35%higher maintenance costs for life, as well as lower performance. This leads to wasted opportunity costs and key value is delayed.

To demonstrate the increases in the productivity of agile teams using Scrum, Richard showed details from Jeff Sutherland's IEEE Paper Magic Potion for Code Warriors. The study showed that the company Systematic Software Engineering went from CMMI Level 1 to CMMI Level 5 and showed a 31% decrease in effort by the efficiencies they gained. Next, the team moved to Scrum. By going to Scrum, they reduced effort by 65% compared to their effort at CMMI Level 1. The effort figure includes total work, rework and project focus. Overall, Scrum showed a 50% cut in rework, 80% cut in cost, and a 40% cut in defects. This translated into a 100% increase in productivity. As a result, they now double their price for clients who require a phased approach.


Agile productivity gains let you do more with less. Large companies and their execs want specific metrics, not survey results to prove the impact of a process. QSMA and Michael Mah have the metrics. They have a benchmarked comparison of 29 Agile projects from very large companies like CNET, Accuro Healthcare, HomeAway, Moody's, and BMC Software. They compared these agile projects to a database of historic data from traditional projects that QSM had studied.

To provide the best index of productivity, QSMA uses this equation: Productivity Index = Size/(Time*Effort), where Size= the number stories, lines of code, and defects, Time=Calendar months, and Effort=Person-months.

To illustrate the benefits, Michael showed stats from BMC Software. BMC delivered in 5.25 months what comparable traditional teams and projects delivered in 1 year with 1/4 of the defects of traditional project teams.

Overall, the 29 projects QSMA studied showed that compared to traditional teams, agile teams have 37% faster time to market. Short iterations and feedback loops in agile are the source of this benefit. Agile teams also showed 16% productivity gains over traditional teams. That means that agile teams are doing more with less. And with 1/4 of the expected defects. Despite shortening schedules by more than 50%, defects remained steady, about 1/4 of what was expected compared to trad projects.

So, if your execs are putting your agile team under pressure, give them a few of these facts and help them understand the value of agile.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Agile Practices"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 21:07
Rachel Weston and I gave a talk on Agile Contracting today at ADP. Here's a quick summary, the slide deck and the handout we gave to our session attendees. Many software development organizations work within the bounds of contractual agreements where the limitations imposed by the “Iron Triangle” of fixed timelines, budgets, and scope challenge their ability to embrace change and focus on value delivery. Agile practitioners often comment that agile contracting is a difficult problem, but proven solutions are rarely presented. In our session, Rachel and I offered some tools that we have used in our own agile contracting work to help agile practitioners deal with different contracting scenarios while promoting agile practices, protecting the development organization, and still providing value and protection to the client’s organization. We conducted a combined workshop and facilitated collaborative session, and presented new agile contracting tools that can be added to your toolbox. Hopefully, we offered practical solutions for dealing with contracts in an agile manner. Here's the deck and the handout:View SlideShare presentationView SlideShare presentation

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Author: "Chris Spagnuolo (chris@edgehopper.com)" Tags: "Agile Practices, agile,business,design,s..."
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:39
Are software companies knowingly releasing buggy, defect-ridden software intentionally? In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!" I'm not saying that they release bad software with malice. It's more about the cost equation associated with fixing the defects. I was talking with Tom Poppendieck at the ADP Conference last week and here's how he explains the costs associated with fixing defects:
Fix it now: The effort to fix a defect as soon as your developer types the wrong code is pressing Ctrl-Z (UNDO!). Cost is essentially ZERO. And if you're pair programming, you're very likely to catch the defect at this point.
We'll fix it next week: The cost of fixing a defect one week after it happens is a fix on the incorrect code, plus the time refactoring one week of code developed on top of the bad code. Probably not too much, we're talking about a few hours max.
We'll fix it at the end of our iteration: The cost of fixing the defect after a two-week iteration is probably about twice as much as after one week. Cost is up to one day.
Don't worry, we'll get to it later, we don't have enough QA budget for it now: Here we are 6 months later at the release date. The cost of fixing one error in the code is now exponential if you have to refactor 6 months of code based on the initial defect. Cost: Potentially HUGE!

Now, imagine you're one of the bean-counting managers when it's time to release the buggy software. Here's your argument: "What! We have a ton of fixes to do? Marketing already ran the ads announcing the release date! We have to beat Foo, Inc. to market on this or we're dead in the water! Plus, it's going to cost us way too much to fix everything now! We have no choice, release it now, we'll fix it later"

Fast forward to your customers using your new buggy software. They're disappointed. They start ripping your product (and maybe even you) on their blogs. Word gets out, your stuff sucks! You do your best to put out patches and service packs. It doesn't matter, word of mouth has spread the bad news, your product still sucks!

Now ask yourself, was it worth it. Releasing low quality software based on the argument above makes no sense. Your company probably lost market share to Foo, Inc. even though you beat them to release because of the bad press. And you still had to spend the money to fix the defects through patches and service packs. By now, you're probably way in the hole, much worse than if you had taken the time and money to fix the defect when it happened or very shortly thereafter. I've already made the argument for the value of pair programming and continuous QA/testing, but it's worth repeating. Spend the money, spend the time, use your resources and build defect free software NOW! The longer you wait, the more it costs. And you may end up releasing buggy software intentionally, and that's the worst thing you can do. Maybe David Rice, author of Geekonomics: The Real Cost of Insecure Software, hit it on the head in his interview with PRI: We should start taxing buggy software. That would do the trick!

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Agile Practices, Software Development"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:30
Go to any wine shop this week and you are bound to find them announcing "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé" ("the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived"). Step inside and you'll find countless cases of colorfully labeled bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau displayed prominently. Yes, it's that time of year again! On the third Thursday of November, the official release date chosen by the French government, wine stores around the world celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau. And, it's a marketing blitz like no other in the wine world. American and Japanese wine enthusiasts in particular look forward to this day with anticipation and are often waiting in line to get the first bottles of the latest Nouveau vintage.

A bit about Beaujolais Nouveau. The wine is made from grapes that were still on the vine just three short months ago (hence the "nouveau" or "new" label). It's fruity, it's light, and it goes really well with holiday meals, especially turkey. It's made from 100% gamay grapes from the Burgundy region in France. It's a relatively inexpensive wine, usually selling for about $10.00 U.S. per bottle. But, truth be told, Beaujolais Nouveau is actually the lowest wine in the Beaujolais hierarchy. I'm not a wine snob, that's just the truth. It was historically a low volume wine and was not highly regarded by most wine experts. So how did this lowly wine become so popular and inspire such a frenzy on the third Thursday of November?

A little history lesson in Beaujolais Nouveau. In France, Beaujolais Nouveau was originally produced so that local wine-growers and their friends could celebrate the end of the Beaujolais harvest. Until World War II, it was sold for local consumption only. In 1951, the French government relaxed their distribution laws and set an official release date of November 15 for the young Beaujolais and declared it Beaujolais Nouveau. In the early 1970's, George DuBouef saw some big marketing potential in Beaujolais Nouveau. It was an accessible and easy drinking wine that most people could enjoy. But he saw more than that. He saw a way to clear lots of ordinary wine at a good profit, very close to the time it was harvested. It was a great cash flow equation. So, in the 1970's, DuBouef helped start a race to deliver the first bottles of Nouveau to Paris. It generated a ton of buzz and attention and became a national event. In time, the buzz spread to the U.S. and the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau became a heralded event. In 1985, DuBouef and others had the release date changed to the third Thursday in November, just 1 week before the American Thanksgiving holiday. This whipped up the frenzy even further and helped make Nouveau become THE wine to serve at holiday dinners in the U.S. In fact, the Washington Post has stated that "because Beaujolais Nouveau is released annually on the third Thursday of November -- exactly one week before Thanksgiving -- the two have become as inextricably linked as Champagne and New Year's Eve." DuBouef and several other notable Beaujolais negociants have since promoted Beaujolais Day heavily, creating what is probably the biggest one-day marketing event in the wine world.

Global sales of Beaujolais Nouveau reached a peak at 62 million bottles in 1998, making Beaujolais Nouveau one of France's best-selling wines ever. And, instead of being a wine sold only for local consumption, Beaujolais Nouveau is now exported to over 107 countries worldwide. DuBoeuf, the man behind the magic of Beaujolais, has led the way and is by and far the leader in Beaujolais sales. It's been an incredible ride for a simple wine and for Georges DuBoeuf thanks to some serious edgecraft marketing. So, marketing frenzy or not, I'm heading out to pick up a few bottles of Georges DuBoeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau for my family's Thanksgiving Day celebration...it's become sort of a tradition for us. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!

For more info on Beaujolais Nouveau, check out the Beaujolais Nouveau website here.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Product Marketing"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:27
In the 1950's, Solomon Asch, conducted a series of experiments designed to understand the phenomenon we know as conformity. In his experiments, a group of participants were seated around a table and asked to examine a series of vertical lines. They were then asked to tell the group which vertical line, A, B, or C, matched the test line. The vertical line series looked very similar to these:
The catch was that all of the participants except one were confederates of Dr. Asch. The confedeates gave the correct answer for the first few trials, but then all began to give the incorrect answer in subsequent trials. Amazingly, the test subject began giving the same incorrect answers as the confederates. In fact, overall, after 18 trials, 36.8% of the answers given by the ‘real' participants were incorrect, effectively conforming to the wrong answers given by the unanimous confederates. Only 25% never gave a false answer, therefore showing that 75% conformed at least once. The results show a surprisingly strong tendency to conform under group pressure, even in cases when the answer is clear.

How does this inform us? When we're working on teams, we need to be cognizant of this study. We need to be vigilant against conformity and group steering. It can be extremely detrimental to continuous improvement. If one person on a team has an opinion that is different from every other team member, this tendency towards conformity may have a chilling effect on their ability to communicate a problem with the team. This applies to estimating as well. If teams estimate in an open manner, differing opinions can potentially be quashed. That's why I believe planning poker is such an effective method for estimating with teams.

But, there is hope. Asch was very disturbed by the results of his experiment. He said, "That we have found the tendency to conformity in our society so strong... is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct." Some time later, Asch conducted his experiments again. This time, when every one of the confederates voted for the wrong answer, one stood up and said "That's wrong!". The test subject then easily identified the correct answer. Adding one supporting partner greatly diminished the power of the majority. Hope!

One voice of dissent enabled another to be heard. Is that all it takes on our teams, in our society to make a difference? One voice to say "That's wrong"? I believe so. But I also believe that on a deeper level, we need to create environments on our teams, in our organizations, and in our society where people do not have to feel pressured to conform. People should be able to think freely and express their views without being hindered by the majority rule. This freedom to disagree is where all progress, creativity, and innovation comes from. I love the fact that the results show that the 25% of subjects who never gave wrong answers were not susceptible to conformity. That makes me very happy. There is hope that not everyone around us is likely to conform to the majority opinion.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Collaboration"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:21
What makes an innovation successful? What makes it have great impact? What makes it so successful that we don't even notice it's ubiquity? One word: SIMPLICITY. No one seemed to understand this better in the last half-century than Charles Harrison. Charles Harrison is not exactly a household name. But you know him. Well, you know his products. But, the products he designed have become so ubiquitous that you probably don't even think about them. Plastic garbage bins, the Fisher-Price View-Master, Craftsman power tools, lawn mowers, hair dryers, toasters...the list in practically endless. Harrison was an industrial product designer for the Sear Roebuck Company from 1961 to 1993. During that time he designed over 750 products that Americans and people worldwide came to know and use on a regular basis.

Harrison's secret to his success was his adherence to a simple design axiom: "If it doesn't do what it's supposed to do or look like what it does, then I frown on it. I don't think a nutcracker needs to look like an elephant". Harrison wanted to make things that fit in rather than stood out. And sometimes, that is what makes an innovation truly successful. When something is so easy to use or fits in with a workflow so well, you never even notice it...but you grow to the point where you can't even think about it not being there. Take Harrison's extremely innovative plastic garbage bin design, about which Harrison said in his book A Life's Design , "When that can hit the market, it did so with the biggest bang you never heard. Everyone was using it, but few people paid close attention to it". Think about it: When was the last time you used a metal garbage can?

So, whether you're designing garbage bins, hair dryers, and toasters or the next generation of software or hardware, consider the words of Charles Harrison "If it doesn't do what it's supposed to do or look like what it does, then I frown on it". The next time you're considering adding that little bell or whistle, think twice and consider if you really need it or not. In other words, make sure there is nothing superfluous about what you're designing. Your users will thank you for it. Or even better yet, they won't even notice it.

NOTE: Charles Harrison was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Design, Innovation, User Experience"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:15
If you don’t sleep as well at The Benjamin Hotel as you do at home, Andy Labetti, General Manager for The Benjamin, will give you a free night’s stay. A good night’s sleep is non-negotiable. The Benjamin’s ‘Sleep Guarantee’ ensures that everyone who stays at the hotel walks away well rested or gets their money back. If a guest is dissatisfied with his or her sleep at The Benjamin, all they need to do is contact the front desk, and the hotel will refund the cost of their night’s stay.

And those aren't just some words slapped on a hotel brochure. The Benjamin has gone to extraordinary lengths to back up the guarantee of a good night’s rest in New York, “the city that never sleeps.”

Andy told me "The Benjamin sells a good night’s sleep, and we guarantee each guest’s comfort by providing anticipatory services, such as remembering a pillow preference and having it waiting in the room upon check-in. We've also implemented a number of innovative initiatives, including our Sleep Concierge, a 12-choice pillow menu, our sleep guarantee and a variety of other sleep-inducing amenities through room service and our Wellness Spa. We always provide caring and genuine service with an innkeeper’s mentality to make every guest feel like their comfort and needs are our top priority, and we center everything the hotel does around following through on these expectations."

In fact, three days before a guest is scheduled to arrive, the staff advises him or her of the pillow menu so that the pillow will be in the room when the guest arrives. The menu is amazing. It offers guests a selection of 12 different types of pillows from which to choose: down, upper body, buckwheat, satin, hypo-allergenic, water-filled, Swedish memory, magnetic therapy, a jelly neckroll, a five-foot body cushion, sound, maternity and a special anti-snore pillow. In addition to the pillows, the hotel features The Benjamin Bed: a Serta mattress created exclusively for The Benjamin, covered with 100% Egyptian Cotton 400-plus thread count sheets by Anichini and a down-filled comforter with luxurious triple sheeting. (The pillows, sheets, and mattresses have become so popular that they are now offered for sale for guests who want to sleep as well at home as they do at The Benjamin!) Aromatherapy bathroom amenities help guests relax and prepare for bed. In addition to the luxurious sleep amenities, The Benjamin’s windows are double-glazed with argon gas between the panes to help keep rooms quiet and restful. If you've ever slept in a midtown Manhattan hotel, you know how important that is!

When I asked Andy about The Benjamin's edgecrafted marketing strategy, he told me "We realized that the number one productivity tool for today’s travelers wasn’t a laptop or Blackberry – it’s a good night’s sleep. The Benjamin is an innovator in the hospitality industry by recognizing that niche and being the first hotel to offer a 12-choice pillow menu and an on-staff Sleep Concierge to satisfy guest’s needs for a perfect night’s sleep." He went on to say that "We are continually educating our staff so all associates know the latest sleep tips and breaking research in the sleep industry. Sleep intertwines throughout the whole culture at The Benjamin – from the sleep-inducing food we serve to the in-room soothing amenities and services we offer to the soothing sounds and smells that are infused throughout the property."

I love that Andy said "Sleep intertwines throughout the whole culture at The Benjamin". Culture, in addition to the unique services offered, is what seems to set The Benjamin apart. And that culture includes listening not only to their guests, but to their staff as well. "As an organization, it’s our culture to include our staff in all new ideas and innovations that we bring into The Benjamin," Andy said. "We talk to our associates about what ideas they might have that we could implement so everyone is involved in the continuing development of the hotel and shares the responsibility to make sure it comes to fruition. As an example, when we introduce a new pillow, everyone has a chance to test it so they learn what the benefits are in case a guest asks them to recommend something for a specific ailment The Benjamin staff prides itself on the satisfaction scores we receive from past guests, and we are always working as a team to make sure we are continuing to raise those scores across the board." Key point: Continuous improvement through teamwork and collaboration.

The Benjamin also actively collects feedback from their guests through one-on-one discussions and by hosting weekly managers’ receptions. No "How did we do?" cards here. They also put outside focus groups together for new ideas, and have staff meetings twice a month to talk about the future of The Benjamin. They discuss not only what’s happening inside The Benjamin, but also what other hotel companies are doing and how the hospitality industry is developing overall.

Now that's edgecraft! That's setting yourself up to be remarkable. A lot of hotels offer a "100% Satisfaction Guarantee", but how many go to the lengths that The Benjamin does to actually make sure that their guests are satisfied. If you're going to offer a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee to your customers, think about what The Benjamin does and ask yourself "Am I offering just words and hoping for the best, or am I actively doing something to make sure my customers are satisfied 100%?"

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Product Management, Product Marketing"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:11
According to Webster's Dictionary the word improvise means
"to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously; to make, invent, or arrange offhand; to make or fabricate out of what is conveniently on hand."
I actually prefer the definition of improvisation that Wikipedia provides though. According to Wikipedia, improvisation is
"the practice of acting and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of ones immediate environment. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols and/or new ways to act. This invention cycle occurs most effectively when the practitioner has a thorough intuitive or technical understanding of the necessary skills and concerns within the improvised domain."
Wow, now that's a definition! But what I love about this definition is that it recognizes the link between the response to the immediate environment and the invention of new thought patterns. In short, it recognizes that improvisation and innovation are intimately linked.

Most people associate improv with acting or comedy. But, you don't have to be an actor or a comedian to apply improvisation to your work. In fact, I think there is more opportunity for improvisation in the professional world than most people think. Gary LaBranche of the Association Forum of Chicagoland says:
"Board meetings and committee meetings, dialogue with colleagues and other everyday situations give professionals plenty of opportunities for improvisational responses. Improv is all about adapting to constant change and unexpected situations, which is familiar territory for most professionals."
I think Gary's statement is right on the money. We have more opportunities to use improv as professionals than we realize. In fact, a few weeks ago, I wrote about Pixar and their use of improv in their creative process. Pixar boils down their use of improv to two essential principles:

  1. Accept every offer. You don’t know where that offer is going to go. But one thing is for sure: If you don’t accept that offer, it’s going nowhere! So you have a sure thing on one hand: a dead end. And you have possibility on the other.
  2. Make you partner look good. That means that everybody on your team is going to try to make you look good and vice versa. It’s about saying “Here’s where I’m starting. What can I do with this?”.
I think Pixar was able to break down their use of Improv into these two principles because of their long, shared experience with improv. I like these two essentials principles of improvisation for innovation, but wanted to expand on a few other principles for teams and organizations that are just starting to experiment or have never used improv before. So, to add to Pixar's principles, I would advise those new at improv think about these as well:

  1. Keep questioning what works. Good is the enemy of great. When something is really awful, we know we need to fix it, and we usually do. But when something is good, we settle. We don't necessarily think about how we can make it better. So, take a look at what you do everyday. Consider the things that are good and ask yourself or your team "Can this be better?"
  2. Be a risk taker and take chances. Sure, you can do things the way you've always done it. And you'll probably get predictable results and that might be good enough for you. But if you want to be innovative, you need to break through barriers, take risks, take chances. You may not always be successful when you take chances, but if you don't, you won't ever have the chance to really innovate. The most innovative companies and creative people have failed more than they have succeeded. But, when they did succeed, it's been with market-changing and world-changing innovations.
  3. Always be changed by what is said and what happens. Innovative people and innovative teams always uncover new information. But more than uncovering new information, they learn to react to that new information. Instead of locking up when change comes along, these innovative people let that change inspire new ideas and let what unfolds next guide them on. They welcome and thrive on change. And they allow themselves to be changed. They have the beginner's mind and are always able to learn and change.
  4. Create shared, dynamic plans and agendas. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry right? We've all heard that a thousand times before. So, why stick to a plan that is going awry? The answer...DON'T. Abandon them to serve the reality of what is right there in front of you. That's right, ABANDON them. Let your plans and agendas emerge in real-time in response to what's right there in front of you.
  5. Be fully present and engaged. So, you get your team to abandon static, concrete plans. You've gotten out of planning and into being. But, this comes with a caveat. To do this, your team has to be completely engaged and have their attention completely focussed. You have to always be ready and able to ask the question "Yes and?". You have to be engaged and present to always be asking this question.
  6. Keep moving forward. When you're constantly in the flow of improv and innovation, you can't stop to analyze. It slows you down and stifles creativity. When something unexpected happens, take advantage of this new situation and move forward with it. If something goes wrong, learn the lesson and move forward. The whole idea is to keep moving forward. The road behind you is not the road that leads to innovation. Keep moving forward.
  7. Understand the good of the whole. When you personally understand what is good for the whole, you have a deeper understanding of when to hang back, when to grab the reigns and how to grab them, and how to support the other members of your team. When the whole team has this attitude and understanding, it creates a truly collaborative, improvisational environment.
  8. Lose control. We don't want anyone on our team to be the star or orchestrator. We want to make sure that no one gets into the "controlling mind". As soon as one person assumes control or seeks the spotlight, the creativity, improv, and innovation of the team suffers. We need to lose the control aspect of the team and allow everyone to respond to the moment.
  9. Self-organize. Creativity is naturally a self organizing system. Teams that allow themselves to explore and play find this self-organization with ease. The team may set some very basic guidelines of play, but once they do, their roles and organization emerge naturally and creativity flourishes. This type of self-organization allows all kinds of things to be possible.

From my own personal experience, the most innovative teams I've ever worked on embraced these basic principles of improv. In fact, a few years ago, I worked on a truly creative, innovative team. That team always asked the question "What else can we do with this?". We opened our minds to all possibilities. There were many times we said, "We've never done this before". Often, we had no idea how the idea would play out. But we always accepted the offer to see where it would go. Sometimes we failed. But, we learned and moved on. And, when we were successful, we produced some of the most innovative software the mapping world had ever seen. I don't think we ever tried to be improvisational or purposely forced these improv principles. It emerged naturally on a team full of incredible talent with no egos, and I think that made all the difference in the world.
Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Collaboration, Innovation"
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Date: Monday, 24 Dec 2012 20:05
"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Maybe we can learn an awful lot from Emerson's words. And maybe we can apply these words on a less ethereal level. Let us be silent that we may hear each other. As executives, managers, mentors, and team members our silence can be an incredibly powerful tool. Sure, I like to write a lot about presentations and speaking, but sometimes, allowing silence to fill the room allows for other voices to be heard. Important voices. Those of your staff, your peers, your teammates.

I think that today, it has become commonplace to value the sound of our voice and our own opinions over those of others. Most people want to be heard more than they want to listen to others. We do it in meetings, on our blogs, on Twitter. It's all about us isn't it? Well, not if you want to be really successful. By quieting our anxious voices and letting silences exist in our daily conversations and meetings, we allow others to be heard and to fill our own world with new information. It allows us to widen our world view. We gain insights we wouldn't have if we didn't take the time be quiet and listen.

This skill, or rather, this discipline is really important for managers. In an article for StickyMinds, Esther Derby once wrote:

"In a social situation, a 50/50 balance between talking and listening feels comfortable. But management conversations are different. Managers need to understand how people are working, and where they need help. Managers need to understand the status of work, risks, and obstacles. 30 percent talking and 70 percent listening is a more appropriate balance for management conversations."
I think Esther hit on the head in her statement. As managers, we should be listening more than speaking. Now, that doesn't mean you wait around for others to say something. You have to engage people to get them talking, and that means asking questions instead of dictating answers. When you ask your questions, allow silence to fill the space to allow the conversation to breath naturally instead of forcing and rushing answers.

By using silence and increasing your listening skills, you can help create a dynamic, innovative environment.   If people don't think their ideas are heard or accepted, they'll stop presenting them, effectively reducing your team's knowledge base and innovative ideas. You want to open the space up to allow innovative ideas to flow, and by talking less and listening more, you can do it. And if you're still more concerned with your own success than that of your team, here's a nugget for you too, a key trait of the most influential people is facility with listening and understanding another's perspective. So, maybe it's time we all started talking a bit less and started listening more.

So, how do you start listening better? Here's some great advice from Jamie Walters, the founder and Chief Vision & Strategy Officer at Ivy Sea, Inc. in San Francisco, CA.

Be present
  • Resist distractions (noises, interruptions, fidgeting, prejudices, etc.).
  • Don't do five things at once. Do one: listen to the person with whom you're speaking.
  • Demonstrate your full attention by leaning forward slightly, focusing your eyes on the speaker's face, and trying not to fidget or glance away too frequently.
  • Follow the golden rule. Take a moment to realize that every person is important and deserves your attention. How does it feel to talk with someone who doesn't seem to be listening, or be ignored or treated disrespectfully?
  • Keep an open mind and be flexible to others' ideas; release your need to be right, if only temporarily. Our need to be right can cause us to be contentious, or even inflammatory.
  • Don't tune out because you disagree. You just have to listen and understand, not agree.
  • Don't jump to conclusions before you've heard the whole message.
  • If you find yourself reacting to what another person says, your body language will communicate your reaction. Try saying, "You can probably see I'm reacting a bit, but it's important to me to understand your point of view. Please tell me more about ?"

  • Ensure your understanding by saying something like, "I want to make sure I understood you correctly. You're saying ?" or "So your concern (or idea) is ?"
Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Collaboration"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 20:34
While lying in bed recovering from an injury a few years ago, I was stumbling around through the myriad of video podcasts I subscribe to and decided to take a look at some of the videos in The George Lucas Educational Foundation Integrated Studies series. That's where I came across this gem featuring Pixar's Randy Nelson who is the Dean of Pixar University. It has had an extremely  profound impact on how I think and collaborate. He's giving a short talk entitled Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in April of 2008. Take a look:
In his very casual and easy style, Nelson starts off by talking about how PIxar uses improv as a method of collaboration. In that method, two principles have surfaced that have guided Pixar:

  1. Accept every offer. You don't know where that offer is going to go. But one thing is for sure: If you don't accept that offer, it's going nowhere! So you have a sure thing on one hand: a dead end. And you have possibility on the other.
  2. Make you partner look good. That means that everybody on your team is going to try to make you look good and vice versa. And it's not about judgement or saying "This is pretty good. How can I make it better?". It's about saying "Here's where I'm starting. What can I do with this?". Nelson calls this "plus-ing".

I passed this video along to my friend Bert Decker, CEO of Decker Communications, to get his take on this as it is right up his alley. Here's what Bert had to say:
"Randy talks about ‘plus-ing’. Sue [Walden of ImprovWorks] calls it “yes, and...” What we mention in our advanced course is two essential rules of improv that you can apply to all communications, (and life for that matter) is: 
  • Always positive (yes, and...) 
  • Support your partner 
And of course there’s ‘forward lean’ but that comes even before improv...."
Based on those two principles, Pixar looks to find people who are really good at something. And Pixar is really good at being innovative. So, how do you find people who are really good at being innovative? If something has never been done before and it's truly innovative, how do you find the people to do it. According to Nelson "You look for people who have seen failure and figured out how to make something from it. The core skill of innovators is error recovery not failure avoidance. We're looking for resiliency and adaptability." Wow, how many places think like this? I mean really think this way and not just pay the lip service. Not many trust me. It's so great to see a hugely successful organization express this attitude out loud and really mean it.

What Pixar has realized is that a great predictor of innovation is mastery of something. It could be mastery of anything. The important thing is the personality that goes along with mastery. It's that sense of "I'm going to get to the top of that mountain" that you can use in your enterprise. It's called depth. Nelson goes on to say that given the fast pace of business these days, there's very little chance that people are going to achieve mastery on the job. You want them to be masters coming in the door.

Another predictor of success is breadth. No one-trick ponies. We want to find people with lots of experiences (not necessarily "experience"). People with a breadth of experiences are deeply interested in many things. My favorite quote from Nelson: "We're looking for people who are interested...not interesting." Interested is tough, interesting is easy. Interested is a real skill. If you say "I've got a problem", interested people lean in. They amplify you. They want to know what YOU want to know.

The notion of breadth leads to Nelson's third predictor, communication. Another awesome quote, especially for all of you developers and techies out there: "Communication involves translation." If you just emit tech, nobody really hears you. The translation gets pushed to the receiving end of the conversation and gets garbled. Do the translation at the SENDING end so that it doesn't have to be done at the receiving end and the listener can say, "I understand". So, no non-communicative techies! Nelson says that "Communication is not something the emitter can measure." You can't declare yourself as articulate or a good communicator...only your listener can. People who are interested are more likely to view communication as a destination rather than as a source. Nelson postulates that breadth and a broad range of experiences is the thing that fuels that. To me, this notion of communication as a destination not a source is extremely crucial to the success of teams comprised of so many different skillsets and levels of technical expertise.

According to Nelson though, the most important predictor of success and innovation is collaboration. But what is collaboration? Real collaboration? It's not cooperation. We've been conditioned to jump to this answer very quickly. We all think "We have to cooperate to get our jobs done. That's collaboration." But, all this really means is we're not getting in each other's way. Nelson says that the things that get done in a cooperative enterprise could, in effect, all be done by one person if we had enough time and resources. He says that there is nothing in a cooperative workplace that job one does that can make job two better. Job one can prevent job two from getting done, but there's nothing job one can do to make job two better. Collaboration is not a synonym for cooperation.

So what does collaboration mean if it's not about cooperation? Nelson says that collaboration for Pixar means AMPLIFICATION. It means connecting a group of individuals that are INTERESTED in each other, that bring separate DEPTH to the problem and that bring a BREADTH that gives them interest in the entire solution. And most importantly, it allows them to COMMUNICATE on multiple different levels: verbally, in writing, feeling, acting, pictures. In all of these ways, Nelson says:
 "They find the most articulate way to get a high fidelity notion across to a broad range of people so they can each pull on the right lever."
I absolutely love this definition of collaboration and it's all rooted in a collective vision that everyone understands and can relate to.

After listening to Nelson walk through these four points with passion and enthusiasm, it's no wonder why Pixar has been immensely successful in their endeavors. After a little digging and emailing, I found that indeed, Pixar's HR department uses all four of these predictors for the basis of their hires. They don't just look at a candidate's experience or resume. In a 2006 New York Times interview, Nelson said:
"The problem with the Hollywood model is that it’s generally the day you wrap production that you realize you’ve finally figured out how to work together," Mr. Nelson said. "We’ve made the leap from an idea-centered business to a people-centered business. Instead of developing ideas, we develop people. Instead of investing in ideas, we invest in people. We’re trying to create a culture of learning, filled with lifelong learners. It’s no trick for talented people to be interesting, but it’s a gift to be interested. We want an organization filled with interested people." 
The things Nelson describes are intangible, you can't write them down. But when you talk with and work with people who possess these traits, you know who they are right away. And they're the kind of people you want on your team. Give me 10 people like this over 100 people with years of experience and you can do incredible things.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Collaboration, Innovation"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 19:55

This week I'm tuning in to listen to Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, talk about the unique culture he and his team have built at Zappos. That got me thinking about corporate culture in general and just how important it really is. Many traditional companies believe that there too much emphasis placed on fun and creativity in the new Web 2.0 corporate cultures. I personally think that these new, forward thinking, culture-focused companies have got it right.

Witness the bottom line of Zappos or Facebook or Twitter and I think you'll see the picture very clearly. Build a great corporate culture that incorporates mindfulness, fun, respect for employees, and creative thinking and then stick to it. In fact, make every decision based on your corporate culture. If you do that, I think you stand a great chance of being successful and creating brands and products that customers will not only recognize but love.

And, I believe that the most important decisions you can make based on your corporate culture is hiring and firing. Zappos, Netflix, and many other successful companies hire and fire based solely on cultural fit. Tony Hsieh has said "If you get the culture right, then most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a brand will just happen naturally. We’ve actually passed on a lot of really talented people that we know would make an impact to our top or bottom line,” says Hsieh, “but if you know they’re not a culture fit we won’t hire them. Similarly, the company will fire people even if they’re doing their job perfectly if they’re bad for the culture." Now, you can go ahead and dismiss Hsieh as a quirky anomaly, but judging by the fact that Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009, I'd say corporate culture is a worthwhile investment.

So, how do you make your hiring/firing decisions? Do you hire someone regardless of their cultural fit with your organization and hope they'll work out? Do you hire someone with the wrong cultural fit and hope you can force a square peg into a round hole? Or, do you look for someone who is the perfect fit for your culture and do everything you can to bring them on board? And most importantly, would you be willing to fire someone who just didn't quite fit with your team culturally?
Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Corporate Cultures"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 19:54
Lucy Bradshaw is a Senior VP at Electronic Arts. Maybe you haven't heard of Lucy, but you've definitely heard of the games she's behind: The Sims and Spore. Last November, Fast Company ran a great interview with her that is really inspiring. When you listen to her speak, you can feel the love she has for the product she develops and the passion she has for doing it in a playful, collaborative way.

Here are some of the key take-away points from Lucy's interview:
  • She's extremely concerned with creating a work environment that is conducive to a highly collaborative and very creative experience and expression. We all should be. Too often work environments can be stifling. Open up and let the creativity flow.
  • Have the conviction to believe that people have something to contribute. It's up to you to figure out a way of bringing the best out of your people. Ask yourself continually "How can I help that person be the best they can be?" And more than that, understand that everyone from the front desk receptionist to a senior VP all have something to contribute.
  • Pay your dues and work your way up. Lucy started out without an art or software development background. But she found what she was passionate about, worked hard at getting there and has ended up working her way to a job she loves.
  • The most Lucy has ever learned came from letting people touch what her and her team were making and learning from them. Exposing your ideas to the outside world for criticism is always the best way to learn. Don't keep them to yourself. Air them out, get feedback. And use the feedback to learn from and to make constructive changes to your ideas and products. No one person knows all the answers.
  • Always always always keep learning. Lucy says that "For me, this job is one of those things that's just continually intriguing. You're always learning." Continually intriguing! I love that idea. What if every day you thought your job was continually intriguing? How good would it feel to wake up every morning anticipating the intrigue and learning experience that awaited you at work? It's probably there...sometimes we just forget to look for it.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Innovation"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 19:14
A close friend of mine recently sent me a link to Holstee's site. Holstee is a design group who's tagline is "Wear Your Passion". What was interesting is that they have published what they call The Holstee Manifesto. It's really a manifesto about life and passion. It's especially relevant since another friend of mine is going through a life changing moment at her current job and sent me an email this morning in which she said "I just need to love what I do again, because right now my daily work is becoming soul crushing." Nobody should have to feel that way on a daily basis and you have the power to change it whenever you want to.

So, I thought this was worth sharing. It has great advice for anyone doing some soul searching and trying to figure out what's important in life. Some of my favorite lines from the manifesto:

  • If you don't like something, change it.
  • If you don't like your job, quit.
  • Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.
  • Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them so go out and start creating.
  • Live your dream, and wear your passion.

I hope you find this manifesto as interesting and inspiring as I did. Here it is in all it's simple glory:

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Mindfulness"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 19:06
I was watching a video of Steven Johnson speaking about where good ideas come from on TED recently. To say that this talk is jam packed with amazing insight of how collaboration leads to innovative ideas would be an understatement. Not to spoil your enjoyment of watching this video, but the very last statement of this talk summarizes everything in such a neat little nutshell that it's worth saying up front: "That is how innovation happens. Chance favors the connected mind".

So, now that you know the ending, what exactly does it mean. It means that collaboration, real true and honest collaboration, is where the most innovative ideas come from. What's interesting is that what Johnson refers to as the "liquid network" in his talk, Randy Nelson of Pixar refers to as "amplification". Look at how each describes the environment where good ideas come from: Johnson's Liquid Network:
"...where you have lots of different ideas that are together, different backgrounds, different interests, jostling with each other, bouncing off each other -- that environment is, in fact, the environment that leads to innovation."
Nelson's Amplification:
"Connecting a group of individuals that are interested in each other, that bring separate depth to the problem and that bring a breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution. They find the most articulate way to get a high fidelity notion across to a broad range of people so they can each pull on the right lever."
There are lots of things these two ideas have in common. First, it's all about a group of individuals building on each others ideas. There is no single "innovator", no singular mind providing the vision and mission statement to lead a team toward innovation. Secondly, individuals with different interests and backgrounds (or depth and breadth) work together to build an idea that they couldn't have built with a group of like minded individuals. I think these two points are the keys to really collaborating and coming up with great ideas, innovative ideas. I also like that Johnson emphasizes that ideas come from a chaotic place; a place that doesn't exist in a cubical or a conference room. He says:
"We take ideas from other people, from people we've learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms, and we create something new...this is the kind of chaotic environment where ideas are likely to come together, where people were likely to have new, interesting, unpredictable collisions -- people from different backgrounds."
Again he touches on the idea of people from different backgrounds coming together, but the most interesting part of the phrase is that unpredictable ideas come from chaotic places. And the use of the word collisions is brilliant. It's not about neatly arranging individuals and asking them to "brainstorm" together. It's about chance meetings, chance conversations that happen spontaneously, resulting in a collision of ideas, and producing an unexpected result.

I've been with too many organizations where they have tried to reduce the noise, temper the chaos, create "idea-of-the-month task forces", and of coarse mitigate all risks. When you need to fill out a form proving the return on investment for every little thought a team has, when we build cubicles to isolate individuals, when we hire individuals who fit the organizational mold, or when we form teams of thinkers, we severely limit the possibility of collisions that uncover the unpredictable ideas that ultimately lead to true innovation.

So I guess what I'm trying to get at here is that if you want to be innovative, build organizations and build the spaces in your workplace that support both Johnson and Nelson's ideas about collaboration. Bring together individuals with wildly varying backgrounds and experiences and give them the freedom to roam. Let minds become connected in an open space. Allow the chaos to thrive and allow the unpredictable ideas that come out of liquid networks and amplification to permeate your organization's culture and direction. That's the place where great ideas come from and that's where I know I'd rather live. If you're interested here is the full TED talk from Steven Johnson:

Attached Media: application/x-shockwave-flash ( 507 ko)
Author: "Chris Spagnuolo (chris@edgehopper.com)" Tags: "Innovation, agile,business,design,sustai..."
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 19:01
Alan Atlas, an old friend of mine and one of my agile mentors, would always ask this question to teams that he worked with that were flailing but resistant to change:
"Do you know what the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
How do you stop flailing and begin meaningful change? Maybe take the advice of another wise person, Eleanor Roosevelt:
"Do one thing every day that scares you."
If you're not trying something that scares you, then you're probably not doing something different. And if you're not doing something different, you're perpetuating the status quo. So, what did you do today that scared you?

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Innovation"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 18:33
Hi everyone. I know it's been a really long time, but I've decided to pick up the pen and begin blogging again. I'm well-rested, focused, and super excited to engage in meaningful conversations with you all! I'm planning to start writing again in the New Year on topics ranging from product management, agile software development, and innovation to zen mindfulness in the workplace. I hope you decide to follow along on the new adventure. To celebrate the new beginning, I've completely redesigned EdgeHopper.com and have migrated it to a new host. I've also moved EdgeHopper to a new RSS feed.

You can access the new blog now at http://www.edgehopper.com.

And the new RSS feed can be accessed here.

Over the next two weeks I'll be migrating the best of the "old" blog to it's new home. In the meantime, I wish you all Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year! See you all in 2013!
Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)"
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Date: Friday, 21 Dec 2012 17:53
Here's a quiz for you. Which of these two teams succeeded in making history and being extremely innovative in the process?

The A Team

  • Budget: $2,000,000 in grant money.*
  • Project Manager: A world renowned scientist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute.
  • Team members: The best scientists money could buy.
  • Subject matter expertise: Years of scale model experience.
  • Industry connections: Extremely well connected.
  • Publicity behind the project: Unprecedented.

The B Team

  • Budget: $24,000 of their own hard earned cash.*
  • Project Manager: None.
  • Team Members: Two guys without high school diplomas.
  • Subject matter expertise: Printing and bicycles. Make that none.
  • Industry connections: Um, who are these guys?
  • Publicity behind the project: Like I said, who are these guys?

Well, it wouldn't be worth writing about if it were The A Team. Of course, The B Team is the correct answer. The A Team was led by Dr. Samuel Langley and turned out to quite literally be a big flop. The B Team had no real leader. It was a team of two brothers named Orville and Wilbur. You might know them better as the Wright Brothers...you know...the guys who pioneered powered flight and changed the course of history. So how is it that these two guys from nowhere with a tiny budget beat a well-funded, government-backed team of top scientists to become the first team to achieve powered flight?

Mostly, they had a passion for what they were doing. They understood Langley's team was bigger and "better" than they were. But the Wrights were passionately committed to the "idea" of powered flight. They knew that it wasn't about having a huge team of scientists or tremendous budgets to win the game. Langley and his scientists were hired guns; if they failed, they failed. No big deal. They'd find another government grant to keep them going. If the Wrights failed, it was their life's savings and their own personal reputations on the line. They were taking personal risks that could only be countered by a passion for what they were doing. The Wrights were driven by doing things that were different and challenging, not to meet the goals of a grant or a contract. It was this passion, this desire to do something challenging that allowed the Wrights to create the world's first wind tunnel, develop innovative wing and propeller designs, and devise a control system that made powered flight possible.

Sometimes it's very tempting to think that "if we had a bigger R&D budget, we'd be more innovative" or "if we had more resources we'd be able to really innovate" or "we just don't have the right team and experience to be innovative". The Wrights proved that you don't need any of these things to be innovative. You need people who are passionate about what they're doing. People who are willing to stick it all out there, take the risks and ignore the naysayers. And you don't need a lot of them. Come on, if two guys who didn't finish high school could change the world, a team of passionate people in your company or organization can certainly come up with innovative ideas that at least change your industry.

Want more proof from a more current success story? Listen to what Steve Wozniak says about his work at Apple: "All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever." The truth is, you probably already have the right resources and people that you need. Just find a way to let them dream the "crazy" ideas, unleash their creative potential, and build innovative products that they are really passionate about.

*Note: The budgets were actually $70,000 for Langley's team and $1,200 for the Wright's...but adjusted to reflect today's value they are $2M and $24K.

Author: "chris@edgehopper.com (Chris Spagnuolo)" Tags: "Innovation"
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