The following is a transcription of Voice of Bold Business Radio Program 77: Steady Innovation

Program Notes Can be Found Here.





Transcript of Program 77 – Steady Innovation

Jess: This is The Voice of Bold Business Radio, and I am your host Jess Dewell of Red Direction. Today I’m talking with Jim and Steve, and this conversation has so much good stuff in it, in fact, part of the notes that I have been taking are what else I want to talk about sometime in the future. Everywhere we went I was thinking, oh, there are three things we could talk about here. Let your mind wander, let your mind play, and really enjoy this show. Before we get to the goods, the meat of the conversation, I’d like to briefly introduce each of them to you.

Jim Katzaman is an insurance professional that helps middle American families identify and resolve critical financial matters.

Steve Dodd leverages ideas to improve interpersonal communication, social media ROI, privacy and security. We’ll be right back.

Announcer (amid background music): Welcome to The Voice of Bold Business, the show that provides everything smart leaders need to evaluate situations, build relationships, and create solutions. Jess Dewell candidly talks about the skills necessary to build tenacity, and do more with less. And now, here’s Jess:

Jess: Hey Jim, I want to know, I know you’ve been thinking about this in preparation for the show… how do we know that we’ve reached capacity and we must innovate?

Jim: Well, a sure sign of reaching your capacity is when your hands are too full to get anything meaningful done. Or simply when you can’t take time away for a breather. There’s a lot to be said for “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. More importantly it makes Jack a “burned out” boy. Of course the same holds true for Jill. With that example relates to a single person, a solopreneur or a freelancer, but if the principal applies to a partnership or small, medium or large company, if you haven’t delegated, and you feel full, the underlining stress of business to the point where it damages your personal life, you’ve hit your capacity. If you have delegated, you need to stay attuned to your employees for signs of stress or overwork. From the top down, production and quality will suffer if you don’t get a grip on what you and your company can and can’t do given the resources that you have to work with. Do you need to grow business, in the first place is a good question. There’s nothing in the business world that says you must keep growing to be successful. Success is what you determine it to be. There’s nothing wrong if you are satisfied doing what you do with the amount of work needed to provide high quality products and services. If you are happy producing limited qualities for a niche market, that’s perfectly fine. That’s called a cottage industry, and we have lots of them. These are business owners who know their comfort levels and are content with their capacity to meet customer needs. If you want to grow, you need to make hard choices of risk and reward for expansion. That might require investment in infrastructure, or a larger workforce, or innovation, and that’s when you need to ask, how much am I willing to risk, and how much am I willing to lose?

Jess: Thank you Jim. Alright Steve, I’m excited to hear from you too. How do we know we’ve reached capacity and we must innovate?

Steve: Most importantly… each to their own. Everybody is unique. Everybody’s different. There is no hard and fast rule. Until you really understand the reality of each individual business, whether it’s an individual or it’s a corporation or it’s a global behemoth. I don’t think capacity and innovation really have anything to do with each other. To the extent that if you wait until you’re at full capacity before you start innovating… you’re probably too late. Most people and most companies are innovating all the time and should be as part of their normal course of business. Innovation is not a paradigm shift in my mind. It’s a evolutionary process that takes place all the time. That said, some people are quite happy just doing what they do, and that’s perfectly fine. But ultimately, they hit a point where something needs to shift. Something needs to change. Whether it’s a competitive threat, whether it’s a market change, something is always changing around every business. Nothing is perfectly static. Especially in this day and age. To me, innovation is always occurring. The capacity issue is when a company or a business hits a wall, and their capacity to perform has reached an end. They just can’t do anymore. That’s a whole different discussion in my mind, where people need to do some planning in terms of if they are growing, how they’re growing, and how they’re going to continue that growth within their existing asset base. Which includes brick-and-mortar people, websites, whatever, to allow it to continue.

Jess: There were two things that came to mind, and based off of both of the answers that you guys have shared, we could go in either direction, and I would be interested to see what interests you in this. One is this concept of… innovation is this thing that we work toward. Kind of like success is this thing that we work toward. This mentality that Steve was just saying that you know what, no it just is what it is. We’re always doing these things.

Jim, something that you were saying along those lines that fits here would be… we know how we work, and as long as we’re ok with it, there we go. That’s one side. We could look at this as this thing that people are looking to, and we could dispel that myth…’no, it’s always happening.’ We have to know where we are and that we’re comfortable with where we’re at and what it looks like when we’re not.

Or, we could go the route of… there’s this concept of these businesses spend a lot of money in their thinking about innovation in relationship to entrepreneurship. The larger the organization, the less perceived entrepreneurship is possible. Then we end up with this new phrase, “intrapreneur”, which I also think fits here. Whether I’m on a career path or I’m leading a business, do I need somebody like an intrapreneur to help me in the business… me the leaders of the business and the business itself be more entrepreneurial and innovative? I think those things are closely tied. What do you guys think?

Jim: As you were saying, if you have a comfort level with what you’re doing, it’s fine. There’s a lot of preaching going on, saying in order to be a success you have to keep growing and growing. That’s like a false setup because if you’re happy with what you’re doing, what you’re doing as far as capacity goes, or innovation, you’re the one who owns the business, you’re the one who has to be content and happy with what’s going on. You shouldn’t be taking pressure from the outside to be bigger if you’re comfortable doing a small business that you are able to say no. You say, ‘I have enough customers, they’re getting me what I need, I don’t need to expand. I’m doing what I am, and I’m happy with it’. You need to be happy in your own comfort zone and not be taking pressure from the outside that you can’t be doing this, you have to be bigger, when you’re perfectly content with where you’re at.

Steve: Couldn’t agree more. Innovation and growth are two different things. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean growth. Innovation means changing to maintain, in many cases. Something as simple as finding a new product to put on a store shelf is as innovative as creating an entire new concept of retail, depending on the state you’re in. One of the things that typically troubles me with a lot of these kinds of discussions is that we try to paint everybody with the same brush. As Jim said, it’s individual. To me, the most important thing is, a business owner is understanding the dynamics that are affecting their business and reacting accordingly. Just because you have, and I’ll use a really fascinating example locally here, just because you’ve got a great little donut shop doesn’t mean you have to have two. There’s nothing wrong with keeping one donut shop. Here, where I live, we have a very interesting little crazy business where they’re surrounded by the classic coffee and donut chains, who you’d think would attract all of the traffic, and crush some little guy who has a corner operation as a donut and coffee shop. I’m amazed that the thing is busy all the time. So I went in t find out what was going on… and they have a specialty around soup… specifically Asian, wonton. They attract customers from all over literally hundred miles away to come there because of this unique specialty they have that nobody else does. He has no interest in opening another store. This thing has been running for 30 years.  But he created an innovative way to separate him from those major players surrounding him. To me, that’s as fascinating an innovation concept as anything else. He just wants one store, and that’s all he’s focused on.

Jess: Ok, so Steve, what I hear you saying is… innovation tends to be lumped with certain words, and realistically, some of the best innovation, like the story you just shared about the local donut shop, it comes from understanding how to be different, and knowing the business piece of this. When we’re thinking about always innovating, what do you guys think is an important, or maybe the two most important pieces to always keep in mind to ensure there is no stagnation?

Jim: There are two different discussions… we are talking about a person in business for him or herself, versus the person who has a small company, a large company, because in business for his or herself, they know what they want and need and what makes them happy. If they have employees of any size, whether it’s small medium or large, you need to be aware of what makes them happy. If you’re giving them something that’s going to get them burned out, if you’re overloading them, and what kind of innovation you might need to do, not to let that happen. You need to be talking with employees. The employees have the good ideas. Just because you’re the business owner doesn’t mean you know everything. You have a good overview, but your employees were doing the day-to-day work. They may have some good insights. Probably have some good insights as to at least let’s try something different to innovate, to make life go more sensible, more easy. The whole thing is you want to keep in touch, have a good communication flow going, a good communication channel so that you can be apprised of what their feelings are, and what their ideas as far as innovation goes. Not necessarily to expand more, but maybe to make life easier, to make the product line go smoother… all these little tweaks here and there. The whole thing is if you’re not talking to your workers, you’re in a lurch.

Jim: It’s complicated. There is no silver bullet answer here. A lot depends on size, a lot depends on demand. Jim, you said back in the beginning, it really depends on what each individual business’s objective is, and that in and of itself is almost impossible to define. The one thing though that I’ve seen that does impact a lot of this and is extremely difficult to do… it was touched on a little bit earlier, about entrepreneurship. Quite often companies see everything through their own rose-colored glasses. They have their own lens on everything they see. Whereas having a team that is doing nothing but looking at alternative approaches, irrelevant of what may be realistic, can often lead to some pretty innovative approaches to do things, if that’s what a company is trying to accomplish. It’s hard to justify, because everybody’s always looking for tangible metrics. What did you do for me today? But R&D teams inside some of the biggest companies are pretty amazing, and that’s how they survive. People talk to you about legacy companies like General Electric or IBM… those two are classic, where they’re looked at as being old, stodgy, legacy monsters. They have business units that do pure execution. You’re not paid to think about necessarily net new, you’re paid to take what we’ve got and keep the wheels on, and keep the lights on. Then they have billions of dollars invested in research arms that do nothing but think ten, twenty, thirty years out so that when a market matures to the point where there’s a viable need, that need has already been designed, developed and is ready for release. These kinds of massive innovative shifts don’t happen overnight. So large companies really need to be thinking about that, the future expectation. Unfortunately, a lot of our 90-day cycle tends to stop that, because a lot of these companies live or die based on their numbers every 90 days and they can’t think past that.

Jess: And they set the trend for small businesses to follow, so now not only is the market dictating things, but what we see from the outside… so let’s say we’re a small business of thirty-five people, and the leadership team is trying to change the way that they do things so that they can adapt quicker. Well, there is like this hidden advantage to large, established, multinational, international corporations because they have the ability and must be thinking so far ahead that they can put things to market quickly when the time comes. Their biggest competition is these small businesses that can adapt quickly. The biggest problem I see in small business is that they think they can adapt quickly, so they don’t think!

Steve: That’s a really good quote.

They laugh

Steve: I’ve got to remember that one.

Jess: Please, feel free to use it!

Steve: You’re right, they do. I go and run like crazy and then all of a sudden hit a wall and I think I can change fast. Well you can’t.

Jess: No, you can’t. You’ve got to recover. We have to learn, we have to do all these things. Whether it’s an intrapreneur type thing or an entrepreneur type mindset… when we don’t think, we will die, and when we’re not thinking, innovation is unable to happen.

Jim: The trick is that to understand what level you’re working at, and be okay. A small company can’t say, well just because IBM is doing something, we have to do it. IBM may be doing something because they can do it. We will do what we can do, but also understand where our market place is what level and what our satisfaction is with what capacity we can deliver. Like, if you’re happy with your donut shop, that’s perfectly fine.

Jess: Part of thinking is setting priorities and goals. It doesn’t matter the size of the business… everybody has some sort of a goal. What typically differentiates a super successful small business, and whatever they’re doing in defining their success as… write down their goals. Larger companies, multinational organizations, they all have everything written down, because they have external pressures that they’re working with, and they need to be able to show this progress as they go.

How much time needs to be set aside for a leadership team to actually be looking at these initiatives? Because a lot of people go day by day. ‘I’ve got my niche, I can do my thing. I can make my jewelry and then I can go to the fair this weekend and I can do these things and I’ve got my back-office people that are running the books and taking the online orders and doing all this other stuff’. You might have a company of 10, but their main delivery method happens to be farmers markets and art shows. That’s their thing, that’s what works for them, but the person who’s the technician, the creator is usually the creator of the business. Especially in a smaller business, and we get in our own way and we forget that we have to look at things like initiatives. We have to make sure we have plans in place to continue to have income so we can pay those people that are helping us do all the back-office stuff so we can go do what we love… if that’s the kind of business we’re in.

What are your tips for thinking about, writing about, business initiatives? If you have a really good example of a personal story of when it worked really well for you, this would be a great time to hear it.

Steve: The first thing is… innovation or innovative thinking needs dedicated time. It’s not something that can happen in kind of happenstance. Because it does take a certain amount of focus. The day-to-day business priorities will always pull us away from just the time to think. A strategist… whoever is responsible, or whoever’s thinking about strategy should be spending 10 to 20% of their time… between half a day and a day a week, thinking about something other than “doing the business”. Even if it’s nights and weekends. Whatever turns you on. But a time where they literally shut down from dealing with the day-to-day and thinking about what they’ve seen, what they’ve perceived. Even if it’s the craft jeweler that’s out selling at craft shows. What did you see? What’s working? What’s not? Even as simply as how to set up a table so that the right things get positioned the right way. That’s all part of the innovative process. It’s small, it’s incremental, but it does need attention.

For the individuals out there… and this is something that I really am adamant about… especially those that are consultant… innovating a consulting organization’s tough. You have a layer of expertise, your revenue is typically a “pay for use” service… you get paid for the work you do… but your capacity to do work is limited to your ability to retain a customer base. If you’re not selling one day a week… literally looking for new opportunities… eventually you’re going to hit a wall where you lose a customer, you lose a contract, and you end up upside down. From that perspective, all business owners, or whoever is responsible, needs to spend a good chunk of their time locked in a room, phone’s off, email off, just researching and thinking what is evolving around them.

Jim: The one way of doing that… it sounds basic or corny, whatever you want to call it… but you might need to actually give yourself an appointment… dedicated time to set aside a certain portion of the day, a certain portion of the week, whatever. Give yourself a mandatory appointment like you would any other appointment. That’s something you have to stop and meet. If you’re in an appointment, you’re not going to be answering your email, you’re not going to be answering the phone. You better not be answering the phone.

Jess and Steve laugh

Jim: You’re going to be dedicated to the customer. In this case the customer is you. So you set aside “you” time. Just experiment with it. If this amount of time works, or I need more time or this was too much. As long as you’re doing that and trying to do that, it helps. It doesn’t hurt you know, anything helps.

Jess: You are listening to The Voice of Bold Business Radio where today I am speaking with Jim Katzaman and Steve Dodd and we are talking innovation… and steady innovation, and some myths around it. I want to jump right in and go to another place, which is this concept of the unknown. I personally experience, with the clients and the businesses that I am working with, that they avoid what we’ve just been talking about around this thinking time, this think time. They do it because it’s unknown… it’s a little scary. It’s outside the realm of what is easy to grasp. I’m curious what your experiences are around that? Do you guys go after the uncertainty? Are you a little bit more like a typical client that I’m working with where it’s like, ‘Oh, I really don’t know about it so I don’t want to give it any time because what if I don’t like what I find?’ It could end up in these negative rabbit holes instead of these positive outcome rabbit holes if you will.

Jim: Well I know in my case, it’s not a formal mentor thing, but you want to get with people who have been the most successful in the business, in the field, and see how they do things. If among their things are doing a certain time of thinking about the business, how much to be in the business, what have you. If they’re making six-figure incomes and you’re not, that might be a good way to take hints from. It’s not a broad-brush answer to everything, but take a little from this, take a little from there, make it comfortable for you. At least you’re doing something and make it comfortable for you as far as a certain amount of time a week. Whatever floats your boat to make it happen.

Steve: There are some people that change scares them to death. There are some people who love nothing more than change. Then there’s something in the middle. You don’t want change for change sake, but you certainly do want somebody thinking outside of the box. Depending on the type of business person you are… because all business owners are different… some are masters of execution, others are masters of dreaming and thinking. The first way in my mind to address fear is to determine what scares you, because different things frighten different people. There are as many people out there who are afraid of not changing as there are afraid of changing. Once you identify what your executive skillset is, and this is a standard management practice that unfortunately not a lot of people execute well, is to find the mindset that complements you… either in an employee or an outside consultant, or somebody… who can help bridge that fear factor that you as an individual has, and look at other things, so that you’re not stuck in your own mind. You’ve gotta get out of your own head, and the only way you can get out of your own head is with somebody else. It’s really, really tough and every individual is different. Hopefully we’ll have time at the end to talk about a rather intriguing innovation case study that everybody is aware of, but it needs some explanation. It was caused by the same thing. We as individuals do have a hard time getting outside of our own heads.

Jess: Well let’s talk about it right now. Tell us. Give us more.

Steve: I’m Canadian. The tech plays here that was really unfortunate was Blackberry™. I use this as an example all the time because Blackberry™ owned the “handheld” marketplace. They beat Palm™. They beat everybody in their original state. Then, it was all about text creation. It was an email device basically, with a screen. They advanced it so that it had touchscreen and it had a bunch of other things. But it was still designed to create content with a physical attached keyboard, and a square screen. As the market started to shift and more and more people had broader band internet access, they had more access to… forgetting about the app thing, because that really was not as big an issue as ultimately it became. The consumer started to move from text creation on devices to media viewing. With the advent of YouTube™, the advent of more and more reading through your portable device, watching video, watching movies… That whole concept changed the functional demand for a handheld device. When I started with it, I needed a way to create emails, I needed a consolidated calendar, I needed everything in one place, which the original Blackberry’s did incredibly well. But as the change of use of mobile devices occurred, Blackberry™ focused on making a better keyboard, and they focused on making more resilient devices. They concentrated on the original attribute of the functionality of typing. Whereas the majority of users were moving away from that with the advent of short message, so I didn’t need to type an email anymore. I could just send a test, or a tweet, or whatever. I wanted to view Facebook, I wanted to view more and more material, and create less on my device. Hence, along came Apple™ with literally a screen that was designed for viewing. Not for creation. By the time Blackberry™ figured that out, the market was gone. Even today, they’re still trying to play that game, but they were so busy trying to do what they did better, the entire market changed around them and went upside down.

Jess: This is perfect placement this goes nicely into the next thing I was going to ask about which is… sometimes we make this plan, we’ve got this goal, we have this initiative, and it’s long term. These things that we’re trying to do to sustain, or to have a nice lifestyle or whatever, none of that is instantaneous. It all takes time and effort. We could be on track with what we want to do,  but we’re not seeing the results we want, yet at the same time, there’s that special point where you’re in the tunnel and you see the light, but you happen to be in a tunnel where you’re never going to get to the light. You keep throwing good money after bad decisions, or a shift can be made and you say yeah, we tried this and this is not working, so how do we reevaluate this and make the most of it and decide? Let our egos go and get out of the way and decide a different course? Blackberry™ was very good at not noticing, choosing not to notice, saying oh this is a fad, and never really recognizing even their own people changing the way they were using the technology. Right in front of them! There’s that crux, that point of basically you can keep chasing it, but it’s really the point of no return. You’re now, no matter what you do you’re not going to see any results, or it’s that point where you go, okay, I recognize we’re not seeing results so far, so let’s change. My question to you guys is, how do you recommend, have experienced yourselves, or with clients, that point, and how do you negotiate that point?

Jim: The whole thing is, you have to start from the beginning with a strategic plan that’s flexible. I’m going back to the military thing. You have the greatest plan in the world, and that plan is only so good until the first shots are fired. Then everything changes. The reality hits. The thing is, you have to know going in, yeah this is a great plan, but reality is going to hit. How will this change, and let’s see what the function is. You have to have a mindset from the beginning saying, yeah, this looks good, and let’s be ready to make adjustments as we go along when we see what the reality of the future brings which we really don’t know until we get there. We’re not made out of crystal balls we can see the future in. If we could see the future, we would have had a better plan to begin with. You actually have to have that flexible concept and not be married to a certain way of doing things. Knowing that hey, just because I thought of it doesn’t make it right, just because we’ve been doing it doesn’t make it right. What are we seeing that’s going on? What kind of inputs are we getting? Even from our, like you say from the Blackberry™ example, from our own people, this tells us that things are what we expected, and what in this case again, can our own people give us advice on what we might want to look at doing differently. That’s your most important resource right there, your own people. They are not only your people, but they’re also customers. If they’re not your customers, they’re other people’s customers and every point’s a valid one. Not to disparage it just because they’re working for you. Well, yeah they’re also working with you and helping you succeed. Keep your ears open and listen attentively to what’s going on and be ready to make adjustments as you go. Whether it’s innovative, whatever you want to call it… at a capacity point. Always different things, always different factors come in. Just be ready to be flexible.

Steve: Innovation never stops. People need to be flexible for sure.

Jess: I’m looking at our conversation and the notes that I’ve been taking, and when we talk about things like flexibility, observation, think-time, understanding, asking questions, it’s all a part of problem-solving. It’s a different application of what we typically would apply problem-solving skills to. However, it’s just as important, and maybe even more important because we’re dealing with ambiguity here, and understanding that that same process that we already know and can use to fight fires, to deal with daily issues, to even short-term 30 days, 90 days, 180 days, whatever it is, we use that process. To be able to take a step back and go, we can use that same process that we use in the short term for this long term. For this thing that we can’t even see yet. To see what we might discover, let’s go on this adventure. Let’s go on this journey together and figure out what is best. It’s like a personal security system almost. This is feedback loop that goes at some point something’s going to change. It’s going to affect this business, and if I’m not looking for it. If I have an alarm system and I never turn it on in my house… hellooo.. We have this system, let’s turn it on and use it to our advantage for our business development.

Jim: The whole thing is, if you have something, be it an alarm system or what have you, if you have it and you’re not using it, why did you get it in the first place?

Jess: Right.

Jim: The whole thing is, there’s a lot of bells and whistles out there, so you’re buying the bells and whistles but never having the intention… well, saying you have the intention of using it is one thing, but getting it and finding out you didn’t really need it, but boy it sure looks good…then you hadn’t thought the thing out in the first place. Which you need to do if you’re going to get any kind of product and services going, it has to be thought out from the beginning. And that holds true with any kind of resources you bring in to use. Ask yourself, if I’m going to get this latest, greatest thing, does it really apply to us? Think it through before you send money down a rabbit hole and waste it when you could use it better for someplace else.

Steve: There’s and old cliché… “hindsight is 20/20.” Predominantly because once something happens, the answers are very clear as to why. The biggest problem business people have, especially small business people… and even to a great degree the Blackberry™ case, and many others like it. Thankfully the company’s coming back in a completely different environment. But having the ability to sense these signals and detect them… I’m a big proponent of social media monitoring and listening and analytics, and that’s one of the big things is looking at what is changing. How are people’s reactions to things changing? How is your market shifting and what’s going on? So that you can start to see a pattern and connect the dots before it hits you in the head and you go, ‘Oh, I should have seen that’. This is really what innovation is all about is just continual attention, and continual change to advance or maintain your business strategy. Everybody’s got to do it. I believe for the most part most do. They just may not think about it clearly enough so that it is a standard part of their way of doing things.

Innovation should not be feared. Because if a business owner looks at actually what they do… they’re innovating all the time, whether they know it or not, or think about it. They’re always doing something better, or trying to do something better, or think about doing something better or different. To me, it’s raising that subconscious activity and making it conscious thought so that they can truly take advantage of it.

Jess: Thank you for listening to “Steady Innovation”. Man, you know, I tell you guys… first and foremost you need to know where the program notes are… they are at www.voiceofboldbusinness.com/P77 you can also search “Steady Innovation”.

We busted some myths on innovation, and the fact that there’s a time for innovation, because really there isn’t a “time” for innovation, because it’s around us all the time. The one thing that’s constant that we know about is change. How we are looking at it, what we are looking for… facing it head-on straightforward, mind open, is what is going to allow us to be innovative and adaptable and flexible to changing situations. You heard us talk about things like, what success looks like, and capacity in and of itself does not equal innovation. Neither does growth, neither does research, neither does problem-solving. I mean all of those things all along don’t equal innovation. It’s some combination of all of them put together, plus a whole bunch of other stuff that you took away from this program specifically around innovation. You got a case study around Blackberry™ and what happened to them because they chose not to look, until it was too late. There’s always a ‘potential for’, until it’s too late.

You are a leader in your organization, and it’s through your leadership and the actions you take and the direction you set and the responsibility you choose to accept that defines what it means to be a leader today, what success looks like in your company, and how others step up into the culture that you’re creating every day with your actions. You’ve listened. Now subscribe. Visit us on YouTube, on iTunes, on I Heart Radio, on Google Play, among others, and subscribe. Have this show delivered directly to your listening platform twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays when they air. We want to know… we want you to share with us… how do you know that you’re innovating?

Announcer – Subscribe at www.voiceofboldbusiness.com and get more information, program notes, and past episodes. Bold leaders approach each situation and focus on action to achieve a higher level of leadership. Jess Dewell, your business advocate is the host of The Voice of Bold Business Radio. Thank you for joining us.