Need an RFP from Us?
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Mitch Ditkoff. I am the Co-Founder of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. We've been in business since 1986 and, since that time, have responded to more than 1,200 RFPs.
Along the way, we've noticed a curious trend.
Time and again, we've seen RFP-requesting companies get stuck with a vendor or contract that did not fulfill their needs because their RFP process got in the way -- a process that could have been a lot more effective if only it had been more open, honest, and complete.
And so, as a public service to you and all our other prospective clients, here are 10 simple guidelines to increase the odds of your RFP process getting you the kind of results you are looking for:
10 TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR PROPOSAL PROCESS
1. Be Prepared: The odds of us delivering a meaningful proposal to you increase exponentially in response to the accuracy and thoroughness of the input you provide.
If the person you report to has asked you to "google innovation consultants" and put five proposals on his/her desk by next Friday, make sure you are sufficiently briefed so what we deliver to you will be fully aligned with what you really need.
2. Be Clear About Deadlines: Is the proposal you are requesting really due yesterday? The first thing tomorrow? Two weeks from now? Please be willing to give us the scoop on when you really need it and we'll be happy to deliver it by then -- or sooner.
When you give potential vendors a fake deadline, it doesn't bode well for your future working relationship -- one that needs to be rooted in mutual trust, respect, and integrity.
And besides, unnecessarily stressing potential vendors may end up working against you, significantly increasing the odds of you receiving flawed, incomplete, or incomprehensible proposals.
3. Be Transparent: While your proposal process is your business, not ours, there is something to be said for letting us know how many other companies you've invited to respond. If you're asking another 25, our chances are 4% and we might decide not to throw our hat in the ring. Make sense?
If you already know you have only $2,500 to spend on your three-day event in Orlando, let us know that, too. This information will save us the time it takes to write a proposal you will never accept and you the time it will take to read it. Win/Win.
4. Be Ethical: If you are contacting us only to get some useful thought starters about your event or initiative and already know you will not be engaging our services, there's really no need to ask for a proposal.
Chances are good we'll be happy to talk with you about your event, anyway, just for the opportunity to spark a future business relationship with you.
We subscribe to the notion that the more you give, the more you get. But asking us for a proposal that has no chance of being accepted is really not playing fair.
Put yourself in our shoes. The Golden Rule applies.
5. Be Direct About What You're Asking For: If what you mean by "a proposal" is merely our fee, simply ask for it and we'll tell you. It will save us both a lot of time -- and more than a few trees.
If all you need is two pages' worth, mention that, too. If we give you ten and your threshold is two, both of us lose.
6. Be Honest: If you've already decided to engage the services of someone else, but need three competitive bids for "legal reasons," let us know. As part of our newly launched "Consulting Companies for a Proposal Savvy World" campaign, we'll send you -- within 24 hours -- our "They've Already Decided" proposal.
Much less work for us -- and no bad karma for you.
7.Keep Us Posted: At reasonable intervals, after we've submitted our proposal, please be willing to let us know where we stand.
If you haven't read our proposal yet, that's useful to know. If you can't find it, feel free to ask us to send another. If your conference has been canceled, we're just an email away. If you've decided to do it in-house, just holler. If budgets have been frozen... or your CEO has been indicted by the FTC... or you've decided that one of our competitors is the perfect fit, you know where to find us.
This information, delivered in a timely way, will allow us to release the dates we've been holding for you, significantly reducing the odds of you feeling guilty (or cranky) the next time we ask for an update.
8. Respond to Our (Infrequent) Emails: Often, when a prospective client asks us for a proposal, they ask us to "hold the date." This is perfectly understandable. It's common practice.
But sometimes another prospective client, the next day, will ask us for the same date. That's when we'll send you an email and ask for an update.
Since we will have given you the right of first refusal, all you need to do is let us know what's happening. Takes less than two minutes.
9. Provide Authentic Closure: Let's say you decide not to engage our services. Maybe you liked another consultant's approach better or decided to go with the low cost provider.
So be it. Your choice. No problem. Yes, we might be disappointed, but we'll get over it.
What's harder to get over is when there's no closure.
Of course, we realize you owe us nothing. You are not, by law, required to do anything after we submit our proposal. We also realize that your silence isn't synonymous with a lack of care. Indeed, sometimes it's the opposite -- since you may have grown to like us and don't want to be the bearer of bad news.
For us, bad news is better than none.
That's how we learn and, hopefully, get better at responding to your future requests.
And that's not all.
You get to maintain a positive relationship with a company (us) whose services you may want to engage in the future. You also avoid getting a bad rap among the other consulting companies with whom we are regularly in contact.
And we, of course, get the kind of feedback we need help us grow our business. How long does this closure effort take? Three minutes? Five? Ten at the most.
10. Consider Reinventing Your RFP Process: The above nine suggestions, of course, are only from our perspective. We're guessing there are at least a few other improvements you can think of that will significantly raise the odds of your future RFP process being more effective, efficient, and humane.
If you're stuck for fresh ideas about how to improve your RFP process, click here and conjure up some new ways you can change the game for the better.
A big thank you to Paul Roth and Val Vadeboncoeur for their sage input on this topic.
What Are You Really Thirsting For?
A little known fact about me (Mitch Ditkoff) is that, in addition to being the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, I am also a poet. In fact, my graduate school education many years ago, at Brown University, was not an MBA program -- but an MFA in poetry. If you want to see what I looked like back then, click the link below. Ready?
July 27, 2012
Creative Thinking Webinars for People Who Work in Corporations
40-minute overview of Idea Champions' newly launched series of creative thinking webinars (aka "Web Workshops") -- a simple, cost-effective way to spark brilliance and breakthrough in your organization.
Creative thinking web workshops
Click here if you want more info
July 26, 2012
Idea Champions, founded in 1986, is committed to unleashing the innate brilliance of people everywhere.
We are catalysts of creativity -- especially the creativity that has been compromised by corporate cultures that have not yet understood how to tap into the natural gifts of their workforce.
Our end game? Sustainable innovation -- helping our clients go beyond business as usual and turn their top-of-the-line ideas into bottom line realities.
But don't just take our word for it. Here's how our clients describe our impact.July 20, 2012
Like This Blog? You'll Love This Book
I am happy to announce that I have finally gotten off my ifs, ands, or butt and begun writing my next book -- Wisdom at Work. Below are three excerpts. I have also stepped up my efforts to locate an agent and/or publisher. If you are that person or know that person, please contact me. Thank you!July 17, 2012
Rethinking The Role of a Manager
The root of the word "manager" comes from the same root as the words "manipulate" and "maneuver", meaning to "adapt or change something to suit one's purpose".
Although these words may carry a pejorative meaning, there is nothing inherently wrong with them. Indeed, into each life a little manipulation and maneuvering must fall.
For example, if the door to your office gets stuck, a handyman might need to manipulate it to get it working again. If there is a log jam at the elevator, you might decide to maneuver around the crowd and take the stairs.
However, there is another kind of manipulation and maneuvering that is a problem -- when managers use their position to bend subordinates to their will.
While short-term gains may result, in the end the heart is taken out of people.
Your staff may become good soldiers, but they will lose something far more important in the process -- their ability to think for themselves.
General George Patton said it best, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
Unfortunately, ingenuity in many corporations has gone the way of the hula-hoop. "Intellectual capital" is the name of the game these days -- and it is the enlightened manager's duty to learn how to play.
Only those companies will succeed whose people are empowered to think for themselves and respond creatively to the relentless change going on all around them.
Managers must make the shift from manipulators to manifesters.
They must learn how to coach their people into increasingly higher states of creative thinking and creative doing.
They must realize that the root of their organization's problem is not the economy, cycle time, strategy or outsourcing, but their own inability to tap into the power of their workforce's innate creativity.
Where does this empowerment start?
First, by recognizing what power is: "the ability to do or act".
And second, by realizing that power is intimately connected to ideas.
Most managers, unfortunately, perceive new ideas as problems -- especially if the ideas are not their own.
More often than not, managers don't pay enough attention to the ideas of the people around them. They say they want innovation. They say they want "their people" to do something different. But they do precious little to support their subordinates in their efforts to do so. More commonly, they foist their own ideas on others and can't figure out why things aren't happening faster.
That's not how change happens.
If people are only acting out somebody else's ideas, it's only a matter of time before they feel discounted, disempowered and just plain dissed.
People are more than hired hands; they are hired minds and hearts, as well.
Let's start with the basics.
Everything you see around you began as an idea. The computer. The stapler. The paperclip, the microchip and the chocolate chip. All of these began as an idea within someone's fevered imagination.
The originators of these ideas were on fire.
Did they have to be "managed?" No way. In fact, if they had a manager, he or she would have done well to get out of the way.
If you want to empower people, honor their ideas. Give them room to challenge the status quo. Give them room to move -- and, by extension, move mountains.
Why? Because people identify most with their ideas.
"I think therefore, I am" is their motto. People feel good when they're encouraged to originate and develop ideas. It gives their work meaning, makes it their own, and intrinsically motivates.
Who has the power in an organization? The people who are allowed to think for themselves and then act on their ideas! Who doesn't have power? The people who have to continually check-in with others.
Think about it. The arrival of a new idea is typically accompanied by a wonderful feeling of upliftment and excitement -- even intoxication.
It's inspiring to have a new idea, to intuit a new way of getting the job done. Not only does this new idea have the potential to bring value to the company, it temporarily frees the idea originator from their normal habits of thinking. A sixth sense takes over, releasing the individual from the gravity of status quo thinking.
In this mindset, the idea originator is transported to a more expansive realm of possibility. All bets are off. The sky's the limit. All assumptions are seen for what they are -- limited beliefs with a history, but no future.
If you are a manager, you want people in this state of mind. It is not a problem. It is not the shirking of responsibility. It is not a waste of time.
On the contrary, it's the first indicator that you are establishing a company culture that is conducive to innovation.
This is not to say, of course, that you have to fund every idea that comes your way.
On some level, ideas are a dime a dozen -- and only a handful of them are ever going to amount to much. But if you treat all ideas as if they are worthless, you will never find the priceless ones.
Creativity, you see, is often a numbers game. Einstein had plenty of bogus theories. Mozart wrote some crap. But they continued being prolific. And it was precisely this self-generating spirit of creation, which enabled them to access the good stuff.
You, as a manager, want to increase the number of new ideas being pitched to you. You want to create an environment where new ideas are popping all the time. If you do, old problems and ineffective ways of doing things will begin dissolving.
This is the hallmark of an innovative organization -- a place where everyone is encouraged and empowered to think creatively. Within this kind of environment managers become coaches, not gatekeepers.
"Coaching", of course, has been widely written about and there are many fine books on the subject. What hasn't been written about very much is how to become an "innovation coach" -- how to create the kind of environment that elicits the hidden genius of the people around you.
It's one thing to tell people "you want their ideas", it's quite another to create the kind of environment that makes this rhetoric real.
Creativity cannot be legislated. It cannot be sustained by pep talks. What needs to happen is that YOU, as a manager, need to change the way you relate to people. Each encounter you have with another person in the workplace needs to quicken the likelihood that their unexpressed ideas will get a fair hearing -- enabling a far greater percentage of them to eventually take root.
How does a manager do this?
First, by expressing a lot of positive regard. Get interested! Pay attention! Be present to the moment!
This is not so much a technique as it is a state of mind. If your head is always filled with your own thoughts and ideas, there won't be any room left to entertain those of others. It's a law of physics. Two things cannot occupy the same place at the same time.
Here's an example: Let's say someone comes up to you in the middle of the day and says something like, "I have this great idea for a new product that will generate over $200 million for our company."
The first thing you need to do is realize the opportunity you have. An idea is about to be shared, one that may herald a breakthrough or, at the very least, solve a problem, capitalize on an opportunity, or make your life easier.
Your willingness to sit up and take notice needs to be just as strong as if a customer were to call and complain. If possible, drop what you're doing, focus all of your attention on the idea generator, take a deep breath, and begin a series of questions that demonstrate your interest. If you cannot drop what you are doing, schedule some time -- as soon as possible -- for the idea originator to pitch you.
And whether the pitch is now or later, your response -- in the form of exploratory questions -- needs to be as genuine as possible. Consider some of the following openers:
* "That sounds interesting. Can you tell me more?"
* "What excites you the most about this idea?"
* "What is the essence of your idea - the core principle?"
* "How do you imagine your idea will benefit others?"
* "In what ways does your idea fit with our strategic vision?"
* "What information do you still need?"
* "Who are your likely collaborators?"
* "Is there anything similar to your idea on the market?
* "What support do you need from me?"
* "What is your next step?"
Basically, you want the idea originator to talk about their idea as much as possible in this moment of truth. An idea needs to first take form in order to take root, and one of the best ways of doing this is to encourage the idea originator to talk about it -- even if their idea is not yet fully developed.
The telling of the idea, in fact, is not unlike someone telling you their dream. The telling helps the dreamer flesh out the details of what they imagined and the subsequent hearing of it firmly installs it in their memory -- and yours -- so the idea does not fade quite as quickly.
Most of us, however, are so wrapped up in our own ideas that we rarely take the time to listen to others. Your subordinates know this and, consequently, rarely share their ideas with you.
But it doesn't have to be this way. And it won't necessarily require a lot of time on your part. Some time, yes. But not as much as you might think.
Bottom line, the time it takes you to listen to the ideas of others is not only worth it -- the success of your enterprise depends on it.
Choose not to listen and you will end up frantically spending a lot more time down the road asking people for their ideas about how to save your business from imminent collapse.
By that time, however, it will be too late. Your workforce will have already tuned you out.July 15, 2012
Big Innovation in the Prison System
Here's an extraordinary fact: There are more people living in US jails than live in the entire state of New Mexico.
Based on the latest data, the combined inmate population of correctional facilities in the United States is currently about 2.35 million.
The cost to the US Government? $74 billion dollars. That's $30,600 per prisoner. Those are staggering numbers. But even more staggering are the recidivism rates. 60% of all prisoners released from jail eventually return.
Clearly, the prison system is broken -- not just in this country, but in the world. Attempts at rehabilitation -- and there have been many -- have simply not worked. Until recently.
The Prem Rawat Foundation's (TPRF) Peace Education Program, now being piloted in Texas' Dominguez State Prison, is getting extraordinary results. Here is the story (be sure to watch the video).
July 13, 2012
What a Wonderful World!
Time for a break from the following concerns: cash flow, next quarter results, your benefits package, boss, weight, innovation process, or summer vacation plans. Here's a fabulous two-minute BBC video narrated by David Attenborough. NOTE: The business of life isn't necessarily a life of business...
Here's how we can help your organization become wonderful.
The Value of Val
If your small business or non-profit is looking for a highly skilled brainstorm facilitator, creative thinking trainer, or custom workshop leader, Val Vadeboncoeur is your man.
Val, a long time friend and collaborator of mine, has just launched Business Light, an innovation consultancy geared for organizations with less-than-deep pockets.
If your organization is looking for a big breakthrough on a small budget, give Val a call. A man of great integrity with a great sense of humor, Val is 100% committed to serving companies who want to make a difference in the world.July 08, 2012
Treat Your Clients Like God!
At least once a week I am approached by a struggling entrepreneur and asked how I market my services. More often than not, I blurt out any number of MBA-like platitudes.
But when I really stop and think about it, my answer morphs into something much deeper: "I treat my clients like God."
Yup. That's my marketing plan. Plain and simple. I treat my clients like God.
After the proverbial blank stare, the cash-strapped entrepreneur before me relaxes and smiles. Deep down in their entrepreneurial bones, what I'm saying makes sense.
Treating your clients like God is the way to go -- not as some kind of clever way to get a competitive edge, but because that is what life is all about: Seeing the divine in everyone. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. And ultimately, doing great work born of a deep-seated gratitude for the opportunity to serve.July 06, 2012
Weather Report from the Future?
Thanks to Scott Cronin for the heads up.July 05, 2012
Introducing Interdependence Day!
July 01, 2012
One day after
its time to introduce
a new holiday:
Yes, it's true,
we are all
in this together.
do this alone,
no matter how skillful
you may be.
Innovation is a team sport.
The Brilliance of Eliminating Left Turns
ED NOTE: Big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur for this insightful report from the World Innovation Forum.
I caught Andrew Winston's excellent presentation at the 2012 World Innovation Forum last week in NYC in which he focused on how companies can use environmental sustainability as a driver of innovation.
This "Green to Gold" movement has been spurring innovation and boosting profits across a wide range of industries in recent years simply by trying to decrease waste and environmental impact.
Along the way, Andrew, who is the author of Green Recovery (and with Daniel Esty, the book Green to Gold) got into one of my favorite subjects. He offered a series of corporate innovation examples of what he called "head-slappers" and what I call counter-intuitive thinking.
One perfect example of counter-intuitive thinking is what Maersk Shipping did in their efforts to decrease their environmental footprint.
Maersk (a Dutch company) is the world's biggest container shipping line. They asked themselves an odd and challenging question: "Does a shipping company always need to go fast?"
By pursuing that seemingly absurd question, they realized that if they decreased the speed of their ocean-going vessels, they could save up to 40% of their fuel costs, and by merely scheduling and planning better, their ships still arrived on time when their clients expected them to. D'oh!
A little closer to home, Con-Way Trucking of New Jersey had a similar AHA!
By simply reducing the maximum speed of their trucks from 65 MPH to 62 MPH, they now save $10 million a year, and in this economy, that's the difference between making a profit or not.
UPS (and now FedEx as well) had another kind of head slapper insight.
They realized that in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, their truck drivers used up a LOT of gas, wasted a lot of time, and got into a lot of accidents when their trucks had to make left turns and got stuck, all too often, waiting at red lights.
So, they asked themselves the seemingly bizarre question: "Do our trucks really have to make left turns?"
Their conclusion? They didn't!
By re-designing their drivers' routes in busy city downtowns and by re-calibrating their UPS devices to avoid left turns, they save incredible amounts of time and fuel (not to mention having fewer traffic accidents.)
UPS now saves three million gallons of gas and 28 million miles each year by only making right turns!
Similarly, the folks at Scott Paper asked themselves: "Why do we need cardboard tubes to package our toilet paper products?"
What they realized? They didn't.
They now have a line of "tube-free" toilet paper which also saves lots of money AND the environment.
So... the question I (and Andrew) have for you is this: "How can YOUR company use environmental sustainability as a catalyst for innovation?"
And, even more to the point, "What powerful and challenging trigger questions can you ask yourself that might provoke a head slap moment in a flash of counter-intuitive thinking?
Because, sometimes, it's the seemingly ridiculous question that leads to the biggest breakthrough and innovation.
PS: A big thank you to George Levy and the other fine folks at HSM Global for inviting Idea Champions to be a guest blogger at the World Innovation Forum -- now three years running.
Ask the right questions
Why you need to ask why
Big problem or right problem?
15 great quotes on the subject
Who is Idea Champions?