I’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift. Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.
The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.
Welcome to the era of business model proliferation.
Our obsession with scalability is getting in the way of unleashing the potential of the 21st century. We are so fixated with scalability we have taken our eye off of delivering value at every scale including the most important scale of one. The Industrial Era did that to us. Reaching the mass market takes precedence over delivering value to each customer. New customer acquisition trumps delivering value to existing customers. It’s not only business that is obsessed with scale. Our obsession with scaling a national education, health care, and government system has also taken our eye off of delivering value to each student, patient, and citizen. We have been talking about the idea of mass customization for years while we continue to hang on to business models that were designed for scale more than for delivering customer value.
The Industrial Era brought us the reign of the predominant business model. Every industry quickly became dominated by one business model that defined the rules, roles, and practices for all competitors and stakeholders. We became a nation of share takers clamoring to replicate industry best practices to gain or protect every precious market share point. Companies moved up or down industry leadership rankings based on their ability to compete for market share. Business schools minted CEOs who became share-taking clones of one another. It was all about scale. Bigger was always better. So what if the predominant business model doesn’t serve everyone’s needs? So what if it doesn’t even serve existing customers well? Scalability and share taking became about protecting the predominant business model by preventing the emergence of new business models. Incumbents do everything in their power to erect regulatory and legal moats to keep new business models out of the market. Read more
As an innovation junkie and geek wannabe I’ve been paying attention to 3D printing and the exploding maker movement. When I say paying attention, I mean reading about it, watching hackers and hobbyists make stuff, and wondering if there is more to the technology than the brightly colored plastic tchotchkes cluttering my desk. 3D printing really hasn’t affected me yet. That is until I recently chipped a tooth and with the bothersome pea-sized chip in hand had no choice but to visit our family friend and dentist, Dr. Robert Serinsky. Sometimes disruption has to hit you right in the mouth before you pay attention. Read more
Theories of life are a dime a dozen. For what it’s worth, here’s mine:
Hourglass Theory Of Life: Start with broad learning, narrow focus for impact, return to generalized exploration before the sand runs out!
Every life takes a different path but as sand moves inexorably through our personalized hourglasses there are patterns worth considering.
The top of the hourglass represents unlimited potential. While full with life’s sand anything and everything seems possible. The future is brightest when we start with the broadest learning. No limits. No boundaries. Zen Buddhism teaches us the important concept of beginner’s mind, approaching everything with an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki
I’m blessed to see beginner’s mind in action every time I see our three year-old twin granddaughters. It’s exhausting to watch them explore the world around them with reckless abandon, soaking up diverse inputs, experimenting with every sense, and squealing with delight with every surprising new discovery. All kids are born great. Our youth is characterized by broad general learning, the broader the better. The top of the hourglass is about foundation building. It’s about being a voracious generalist. It’s about keeping all opportunities open. The goal at the top of the hourglass is to explore the widest possible frontier of ideas and tools and to establish confidence in a sandbox full of capabilities that can be combined and recombined in unpredictable ways as the future unfolds.
How many times have you heard the expression, you’re preaching to the choir? As if engaging with people who share your values and relate to your point of view is a limiting or bad thing. The adage implies that we should find other people, not yet indoctrinated, to engage with. It took me a while to figure it out, but the age-old adage is wrong. You should preach to the choir because that’s the only way to mobilize transformational change. If you want to transform anything find people who want to change, connect them with each other in a purposeful choir, and enable them to create an entirely new song. Proselytizing doesn’t work. You can’t make people join the choir if they don’t want to. Focus on people who want to be in the choir and make it easier for them to sing.
I used to believe that proselytizing worked to catalyze transformational change by convincing people who didn’t know they had to change that they needed and wanted to change. Over a thirty-year career spanning industry, consulting, and government I believed in and implemented a proselytizing model to enable change. For years I believed that if I just yakked long and loud enough, if I just put together and presented one more smart consulting deck, and if I adopted what I call my ‘Jewish Aunt” approach to management by nudging I would ultimately wear you down and you would change. It didn’t work. If people don’t want to change they don’t. Sure, there was the occasional convert and a solid track record of enabling incremental change to the way things work today. However, my goal has always been and remains transformational change. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how smart and eloquent I deluded myself into thinking I was, people who didn’t want to change, didn’t change. The 21st century screams for transformation not tweaks. We need a new theory of change worthy of the 21st century. Read more
Since BIF1, 10 years have passed — 320 storytellers, 5,000 participants, and millions of random collisions of unusual suspects — and all in the blink of an eye. I’m grateful, humbled, blessed, and blown away by what we have accomplished together.
We made ourselves vulnerable. We connected in ways none of us imagined possible. We checked our egos at the door. We inspired each other to push beyond our limits. We laughed and we cried together. We nudged each other to the edge where the cool stuff happens. We reinforced a sense of optimism to a fault. We helped each other get better faster. We realized we are not alone. We live the transition from push to pull. We demonstrated we are better together. We committed to going from tweaks to transformation. We wear our silo-busting badges proudly. We learned that innovation is about so much more than technology. We got below the buzzwords. We done good! We’re just getting started.
If you’re new to the community and conversation, don’t worry. Come on in, the water is fine! That’s the thing. There are an infinite number of unusual suspects to collide with and adjacent possibilities to explore. There’s room for everyone and all capabilities in our transformation sandbox. You are welcome and valued here. Read more
This is the ninth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time site, authored by Nicha Ratana and myself, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18
“Today, smaller and smaller teams are building bigger and bigger things, faster,” he explains. In today’s marketplace—which is streamlined by technology and defined by abundant choice— “corporate muscle mass” such as factories and storefronts have lost the clout they had 50 years prior.
“What customers really crave is a sense of humanity,” claims Taylor.
“Leaders of economically successful organizations are every bit as rigorous about the human side of their enterprises as they are about R&D and acquisitions,” he maintains. Taylor encourages us to recognize the influence of passion brands. “Apple, Google, HBO” he lists, all have dominated their industry sectors thanks to the might of a zealous group of consumers.
“Ultimately, your culture is what sustains your strategy.”
This is the eighth in a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18
Innovating in Afghanistan certainly brings new meaning to the corporate term “change or die”. Over the course of the project, Col. Fritz had to resolve vast technological limitations and overcome cultural and language barriers. Together, he and his team synchronized the activities of 16 nations, spread across six geographical locations within Afghanistan, to build air power capability and ensure security for the country’s future. Read more
This is the seventh of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18.
Keith Yamashita vividly remembers one smoggy school day from when he was eight years old. He and fellow classmates at the local elementary school in Santa Ana, California, spent their recess corralled in the indoor gymnasium to watch a movie.“That film stuck with me for the rest of my life” Yamashita later recalled while sharing a tale of personal transformation onstage at the Collaborative Innovation Summit, a storytelling event hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.
The 9-minute film, “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, begins with an overhead view of a couple lounging on top of a checkered picnic blanket in a park. The camera zooms out and appears to rise into the atmosphere, marking off the distance from the picnic blanket in powers of ten, until it is far outside our galaxy. Then it zooms back in, ending at the atoms in the husband’s hand.
“Up to that point,” he said, “I had no idea that anything existed beyond my house and school, existed outside of what I knew.” Read more
This is the sixth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI, on Sept. 17-18
How many people end business meetings with an “I love you” and a hug? Venture capitalist and former AT&T Labs scientist Deb Mills-Scofield does.
To Mills-Scofield, to do business is to negotiate diverse personalities to get things done — and she has the gift for it. “The broader, deeper, and more diverse your network, the bigger the impact you can make on the world,” she says.
She explains her network this way: Her consultancy, Mills-Scofield LLC, is her livelihood and passion; venture capital firm, Glengary, where she is a partner, is her way of giving back. She helps entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground by connecting them with clients and collaborators who are hungry for innovation. Furthermore, she mentors a small army of students at her alma mater, Brown University, introducing them to opportunities where they can help “kick things up a bit.”
Each connection Mills-Scofield makes is an iteration of her business philosophy, which is as old-school as it gets: she believes, simply, in “paying it forward.” Read more