Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Habits of top innovators - getting unstuck

I'm looking for a coach (a business coach that is), and so I reached out to a colleague who is at the top of his game, and he expressed that he too is looking for a mentor. I found this interesting - where do you go for mentoring when you mentor for a living?

Recently I had the pleasure of studying with one of the top bass players in the nation, and I asked him "who do you study with?" It turns out he doesn't study with other bass players - he's learned about all he can from other bassists. Instead he goes to the best sax players, and the best trumpet players, to learn how they approach solos and phrasing, and he interprets and applies that to his bass playing.

What does this have to do with innovation? Bear with me - I'm almost there.

When you think you've plateaued with your product or business, or you're fresh out of new ideas, one of the best ways to break through is to study a different industry. How did a completely different industry tackle similar problems? What can you learn from the trade journals of a different vertical? Let's say you're in software - instead of attending a software event, go sit in on a manufacturers luncheon. Can talking with a product manager at another non-competitive company help you approach things differently? People are usually more than happy to chat with you, or even give you a tour of their facilities if you just ask. Who knows what it can do for your business.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good design and the top line

Typically, technology companies, especially those that sell to the enterprise, have not invested heavily in design. The most compelling and usable products today are consumer-oriented - products like the iPhone and Google, as great design directly translates to purchases and clicks.

In the enterprise, often the end-user isn't the buyer, and usability and design ends up taking a back seat in the purchasing decision to features and price. So companies that sell to the enterprise have traditionally found it hard to make the link between usability and the top line. They struggle to make the ROI link, and at best, can only make weak links between investing in usability and reducing support costs.

If you are building enterprise products, you need to read this article: The Mac in the Gray Flannel Suit. CIOs are being bombarded by workers who want Macs. Why? Because consumers are infatuated with iPhones, iPods, and Macs, and they want to use them at work too. Consider: Apple hardly has a corporate sales force. It's a struggle to get an Apple account rep. That's a dream situation for most technology companies.

What about software? Ask a sales team about their CRM system - 9 out of 10 will tell you they hate it, and reluctantly use it because it's been dictated from up high. Is it any wonder that Salesforce.com is growing so fast? They've made a usable application that makes it easy for small teams to sign-up and start using it. When Salesforce.com started, many were skeptical (and some still are) that they could penetrate Fortune 1000 sales teams. Take a look at Salesforce.com's press releases and you'll find many recognizable names. The SaaS model is empowering the end-user, and making it easier for end-users to discover and try products, and that's making it easier for companies who understand good design to leapfrog their traditional competitors.