October 25, 2007
Here, Sonny, Catch!

Sitting here watching the World Series (LET'S go RED Sox, bom, bom, bom-bom-bom -- and how about that ca-razy percussion section in the bullpen?), I was struck by the now-common sight of a fielder flipping a foul ball into the stands. It's routine now, of course, but it wasn't always so.

FenwayPark1970,postcard.jpgIt's one of those things that, once you see it, seems so obviously right. What kid who goes to a big-league game doesn't dream about being able to bring home a real, Major League baseball? And it doesn't matter how old that kid is.

When you compare the money that is spent on putting a team on the field to the Costco-like price of a baseball (I mean, I assume they buy them in bulk), and the public relations value of donating a dozen or so during the course of the game, it's the very definition of a no-brainer.

But I don't remember ever that seeing that when I was growing up watching the game. One day, someone in some ballclub's management saw it happen -- perhaps a ball was tossed by a player who remembered when he was a kid at the park himself -- and said, hey, why don't we do that all the time?

It's a nice example of picking the low-hanging fruit when you're looking for ways to innovate (which simply means, thinking differently to change things for the better), and points up what may be its first principle:

Start by examining what resources you have immediately at hand. You may be amazed at what significant changes you can make with a very small amount of effort.

(We love baseball here at Idea Champions -- check out "Measuring Up," our foremost expert Mr. Vadeboncoeur's earlier post on how the Kansas City Royals have begun to "think outside the radar gun.")

Photo of vintage 1970 postcard of Fenway Park
uploaded to Flickr by vinceconnare

Posted by at 11:10 PM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2007
Owning Your Own Knowledge

One of the guiding principles of Idea Champions is that any large enough group of people who work in any organization already has the requisite knowledge to deal with the majority of the issues and challenges facing them. There may be issues where they need additional information from outside experts but, in general, they know their business, industry, and market and what they have to do to grow their bottom line.

Why they can't easily access this knowledge on a regular basis and act upon it is another story, however, and why, I imagine, we are in the business we're in.

Shakespeare image copyright 2005 Ken Holmes
The issue of not being able to act on the knowledge one already has does not exist because of organizations, of course. It exists because this phenomenon is a major issue for many human beings, and has been, it seems, for as long as there have been human beings. I have a psychologist friend who once confided that when he came across a patient who embraced this syndrome, he recommended other therapists to them as quickly as possible because he found their denial of their own knowledge, and subsequent lack of corrective action, totally exasperating.

Books have been written about the phenomenon of the tragic characters of Shakespeare "disowning knowledge" leading directly to their inevitable demise. Hamlet knows what he needs to know in order to act very early on in that play, but does not, requiring ever greater "burdens of proof" which delay action until it is too late. King Lear knows that he will create a power vacuum if he abdicates his crown that will lead to strife and confusion among his daughters and discord in his kingdom, yet he does so anyway, etc.

Speaking of vacuums... a simple example of this phenomenon occurred to me only recently.

(Image © 2005 Ken Holmes, from a poster
advertising Shakespeare in the Park in Seattle.)

Fourteen years ago, I purchased a fine, expensive vacuum cleaner. This machine cost over a thousand dollars back then and it's been worth every penny, as it is so well made that it probably will outlast me on this planet. During those years, I've often come across a warning in manuals and brochures that if one persisted in dragging the machine around by its hose, or lifting it by same, one would eventually loosen the electronic connections that give signals from the body of the vacuum to its end attachments and it would cease to function properly. The result: $300 to replace the hose and attachments.

Well, after 14 years of dragging the machine around by its hose and lifting it by same, the inevitable has occurred. I need to replace the hose and attachments.


Why didn't I simply use the knowledge I had instead of ignoring it? Well, for the first 14 years everything seemed fine, reminding me of the joke about the guy who wanted to see what it was like to jump off a tall building and thinking to himself during his descent, "so far, so good."

The very same goes for organizations and the people within it.

What knowledge of our organization, its processes, its people, its products and services, our customers, our markets, and our society are we choosing to ignore because, "so far, so good?"

One good way to check this collective syndrome of disowning our own knowledge in organizations is to conduct regular brainstorm sessions that use a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis or Environmental Scan as a starting off point. This tactic forces us to see what's going on in and around our organization, assess the level of threat or opportunity, and to consciously go about doing something about it.

Look around you. Check all your mirrors. Exercise your peripheral vision. What's sneaking up on you in your environment that you hadn't noticed before? What is the market telling you about your products and services? What are your customers telling you every single day in their words and actions, and even more importantly, in what they don't say and don't do? What threats or opportunities right there in front of you have you not taken the time and effort to act upon?

What do you already know to be true that you haven't shared with others or acted upon yourself?

Don't end up in your own self-made tragedy like Hamlet or Lear, or be like that poor guy falling from the skyscraper thinking everything is going to work out just fine, or that dolt in upstate New York staring at a sea of dust bunnies armed only with an expensive vacuum cleaner which no longer works.

Act now on what you know to be true. It's why you're alive.

Posted by Val Vadeboncoeur at 07:28 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2007
Just a Great Idea

(Occasionally we'll run little quickies like this one, examples of remarkably creative thinking that we found irresistible, just for the purpose of passing along a small flash of inspiration that may help raise your own efforts up a notch.)

Parent-Child Dancing Shoes

parentdanceshuz.jpgThese shoes are meant to be worn by a father and a young daughter for dancing together.

Titled "Tanssitossut" or Dance Shoes, they were designed by Finnish artists Huopaliike Lahtinen and Haraldin Kenka. If you can think of anything sweeter than this (or "these"?), please let us know.

Found it on: Boing Boing
Who got it from: Neatorama
originally from Salakauppa / Secret Shop

Posted by at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2007
How do you view your customers?

Sometimes innovative, creative thinking -- in the ultimate service of increasing your business -- is simply about taking a step back to get perspective.

A recent post in the Endless Innovation blog, commenting on an entry in another, Futuristic Play, pointed to an observation that the latter's Andrew Chen made from his participation in a Web-oriented ad conference in New York. As the former put it, Chen found a "huge cultural gap between the East Coast and West Coast" when it comes to thinking about business. (Surprise!)

In New York, Chen reports, "people don't call things User Generated Content (aka UGC)," they call it Consumer Generated Media (CGM)." (The bolds there are mine.) He puts it down to your Silicon Valley types focused on attracting "users" to their sites, whereas, since the New Yorkers "are typically on the advertising side, they see these people as 'consumers.'"

(There are the similarities, too, of course: players on both coasts appear to suffer from the epidemic of acute "Acronymonia," the uncontrollable urge to reduce every human effort to three letters.)
openmouthfish.jpgAs Chen says, it's "an interesting and subtle distinction." Endless Innovation remarks -- talking about the Web, but equally applicable to any business -- "The difference is a big one for any business hoping to expand its Web presence: Do you think of your customers as 'consumers' or as 'users'?"

To me (not to make too much of these particular terms), seeing people just as consumers is to think of them in a passive role; as mouths to be stuffed, you might say. "Users" casts them in an active role: mouths that also have something to say, to contribute. As a consummate user myself, I'm far more receptive to a company that addresses me as a person with something to offer, rather than as a receptacle they wish to pour products into.

It's just one more example of how we have to continually re-examine our basic assumptions and ways of thinking about our business, whatever it is. Naturally, a shorthand develops within any enterprise. Just make sure you continually remind yourself to listen to what you're saying to the people outside, your customers and prospects, and what it sounds like to them.

Photo on Flickr by fiskadoro

"Californians say 'UGC,' New Yorkers say 'CGM'" - in Endless Innovation,
referring to:
"5 differences between a NY ad conference and a SF web 2.0 conference" - in Futuristic Play by Andrew Chen

Posted by at 06:56 PM | Comments (1)

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