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Andy Cars - 20 Ways How To Think and Act Like an Innovator

Andy Cars - 20 Ways How To Think and Act Like an Innovator
Andy Cars

Andy Cars

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20 Ways How To Think and Act Like an Innovator

1  DARE TO BE DIFFERENT (even a little crazy)

Do you remember Apple’s ”Think Different” campaign from -97? The one in which Apple pays homage to what Steve Jobs called ”The crazy one’s”. Have a look!

To innovate means to introduce something new of value to the market. Something that wasn’t there before. If we’re just copying everyone else, we’re not innovating. We’re not changing anything! We’re not “pushing the human race forward”. So, to innovate we need to dare to be different.

But we also have to start believing that we can affect change. Have you ever met someone who has shrugged their shoulders and said “Well I can see it’s a huge problem, but I don’t see how I could make any difference!” 

To make change possible we need to start believing that we too can affect change. The world needs more people who are not afraid of being different and who believe that change is possible and that they can play an active role in shaping and influencing the future.

2  HAVE A DREAM (a.k.a. vision)

Do you know the vision of the company that you are working for? To know where you’re heading you need to have a clear vision of the future that you’re aiming for. And to get others to join you in attaining that vision you need to clearly articulate and communicate that vision, over and over again, and in such a way that other’s will fall in love with it.

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

3  STICK TO YOUR DREAM (with passion)

If we strive to become innovators who affect change and create new value, we need to be prepared to be criticized and sometimes even ridiculed for our ideas. Perseverance is key to the success of any innovator.

Gandhi oncesaid,

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

It’s not enough that you have a dream or vision, you also need to stick to it when everyone and everything seems to be going against you. But to have the energy to keep going you also need passion! If you don’t passionately believe in your dream, your perseverance will weaken.

4  BE FLEXIBLE IN YOUR APPROACH (with data)

But sticking to your dream is only half the story. You can’t expect to reach your dream without being flexible in your approach.

Einstein once said that

The definition of insanity is doing the SAME thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Don’t do the same thing over and over again if it’s not working out for you – change something in your approach, but don’t let go of your dream on a whim.

5  LEARN FROM FAILURE (start to fail “smart” or “forward”)

Now this guy is someone that Steve Jobs probably would call “a little crazy”. He is trying something new and he is failing hard, which often happens when you try to introduce something new to the market. And of course, we will feel under a lot of pressure when the market ignores us or tries to crush what we are trying to create (already stage three of the “Gandhi process”)… our “PRODUCT”.

A big boat (the Market) crashing with a small boat (your Product)

We may even feel like cursing and calling our customers stupid for not understanding the true greatness of our innovation. But let’s not forget that there’s nothing wrong with failing. In fact, failing is an integral part of the innovation process. 

If you’re not failing, you’re probably not trying anything new. So, it’s not failing that’s wrong. What’s wrong is how we sometimes deal with failure. We need to stop complaining and instead start learning from failure. We need to start “failing smart”, or as some people like to call it “failing forward”.

The startup community even have their own conferences dedicated to learning from each other’s failures. I guess Einstein would have called them “anti-insanity conferences”. You may have heard of FailCon where entrepreneurs happily share their most epic failures when bringing new ideas to market. There is also a similar event aptly called “FuckUp Nights”.

6  ADOPT A GROWTH MINDSET

Guess what the people who go to FailCon and FuckUp Nights all have in common? And no, the answer is not ”insanity”. It has to do with their minds. But it’s not insanity. They all have what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck likes to call a ”growth mindset”. 

People with growth mindsets feel that they can learn anything and when they fail, they learn from their failures. They like challenges and are inspired by the success of other people. Their attitude drives change. 

A growth mindset is diametrically opposed to that of a ”fixed mindset”. We’ve all heard of the importance of diversity when building teams. Well yes sure that’s true. True that it’s great to mix different competencies and perspectives. Old, young, different cultural backgrounds, and gender.

But if you mix growth and fixed mindsets on an entrepreneurial team, you’re setting yourself up for endless frustration and gridlock. But the good news is that people with fixed mindsets can adopt a growth mindset “simply” by changing their attitude. 

Showing the difference between the Fixed mindset and the Growth mindset.

I don’t know if you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, but it’s not like you have to practice for 10 000 hours to master a growth mindset. The person in question “just” has to decide to stop whining and complaining and start learning and presenting solutions instead.

7  IF YOU CAN’T MAKE OLD DOGS SIT, HIRE PUPPIES!

But the older we get the harder it becomes to change our mindset. So instead of trying to teach old dogs to sit, it may be a better strategy to actively search for and recruit people who already possess growth mindsets and slowly start changing the culture that way. 

Black pug wearing a pilot jacket

8  HIRE T-SHAPED PEOPLE 

People with growth mindsets are more likely to develop into so called “T-shaped” people (a term popularized by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO) simply because of their insatiable curiosity and desire to always want to learn new things. T-shaped people possess a deep competence in one field but also have a good working understanding of a couple of other disciplines. 

A Super woman representing the Hacker, the Hustler and the Hipster

In an article for Forbes Magazine, Andy Ellwood talks about the Hacker, the Hustler and the Hipster when describing what a typical startup dream team looks like. The Hacker is the software developer coding the solution, the Hustler is the business-minded person who is always in close contact with customers trying to figure out what problem to solve for, and the Hipster is the designer/UX expert making sure that the user experience is simple, seamless, and stunning all at the same time.

9  HIRE GROWTH HACKERS

If you manage to find what Andy Ellwood is talking about in one person, you’ve essentially got yourself what Sean Ellis likes to call a “growth hacker”.

A growth hacker is a viral marketing guru, expert coder, and data scientist all wrapped into one, shown in this model.

A growth hacker is a viral marketing guru, expert coder, and data scientist all wrapped into one. They know how to come up with brilliant go-to-market tactics that have the potential to deliver the same results as the big budget marketing campaigns run by large companies but only cost pennies on the dollar. 

They know how to put those marketing experiments into action, and they know how to interpret the data from the marketing experiments that they are running. If you manage to find these people, I suggest that you hire them! 

10  KEEP TEAMS SMALL

Did you know that they have a two-pizza rule at Amazon? A rule that says that no team or meeting should be larger than what two pizzas can feed. 

Five people sharing one pizza

Small teams learn faster and move faster than large teams. And guess what, speed and learning are core to innovation. The faster that you can learn the more likely it is that you will be able to bring a winning solution to the market before someone else does. So, keep teams small.

11  AIM FOR DIVERSITY 

Another key element of great teams is of course diversity. It’s when people of diverse backgrounds and competencies intermingle that we get radically new ideas. Homogenous groups tend to generate incremental “same-same” type solutions. Given all the research that has been done on this it should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s not. Many companies still have a long way to go when it comes to hiring diverse teams, perhaps especially at the board level.

12  NETWORK

If your team is your internal network, you also need to connect with what’s going on out there. One great way to meet people with diverse backgrounds and competencies, and who are eager to learn new things, is to attend TED in Vancouver. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment & Design and their slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. If Vancouver sounds like too far away, you can always attend any of the independent TEDx events that are organized all around the world. Have you ever been to a TEDx event or perhaps even spoken at one?

13  STAY CURIOUS

Forget about the old saying “curiosity killed the cat”. Without curiosity we can’t learn new things. But to learn new things we need to be prepared to leave our comfort zones. Try reading a book or magazine that you normally wouldn’t. Meet people that you normally wouldn’t meet. Travel to places that you normally wouldn’t go to. Force yourself to experience completely new things, even if it at first may scare you a little or make you feel uncomfortable. Ever heard of “growing pains”? It’s a natural part of growth and it will help to fuel your creativity.

14  START SMALL BUT START NOW (invest while you are still profitable)

This is the classic growth curve. If you start to invest in innovation at the end of an S-curve it will be too late. High performers jump the growth curves because they start to invest in the next growth curve long before the current one has come to an end.

Companies with shrinking sales and margins often find themselves in a death spiral. To have a chance at turning the company around the only option left is to have a fire sale to quickly get rid of assets, which includes people. It’s carnage wrecking havoc with real people’s lives.

One main reason why large companies end up in dire straits is because they tend to focus all their investments and efforts on horizon 1 type innovations (their current business model) instead of starting early, and while they are still profitable,to build a balanced portfolio of several bets across horizon 2 (businesses new to the company) and horizon 3 (businesses new the world). 

15  WHEN EXPLORING GET AN EXECUTIVE TO COVER YOUR BACK

But as you know, when we first start our journey to explore the unknown, we’re really quite small and vulnerable…and we could do with some support. We need a sponsor. Inside a big corporation that would typically be an Executive Vice President who takes care of all the red tape and hands us some funds so that we can go off exploring. 

Just the same way that we can’t expect a child to carry a 50-pound backpack when we go hiking, we can’t expect a startup to report financial metrics such as ROI, revenue and profit margins. We don’t even know who is going to be our customer yet, let alone exactly what problem to solve for. We just have an idea of where we would like to start exploring.So, cut us some slack, cover our backs, and let us explore!

Someone who went exploring is former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. He went to Iraq where he found nothing. This is what Rumsfeld had to say when a journalist asked him to explain why there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

This weird mumbo-jumbo leads me to no. 16 and a quote by Steve Blank

A Startup is NOT a Small Version of a Large Company.

16  A STARTUP IS NOT A SMALL VERSION OF A LARGE COMPANY

The startup community has picked up on the mumbo-jumbo by Rumsfeld since it happens to describe quite well how a startup is different from a large company. Let me explain. 

If we look at the 1st part of the quote: There are KNOWN KNOWNS. These are things we know that we know.** Now this is the territory of managers and business as usual. This has nothing to do with entrepreneurship whatsoever. 

The 2nd part of the quote: There are known unknowns, that’s to say there are things that we know that we don’t know.Now that’s the reason why entrepreneurs go out into the field to interview customers. To learn from them what problems they really care about and how they go about solving those problems today. How happy or unhappy they are with current solutions, what struggles they face, and so on. 

We also have the last part of this quote: But there are unknown unknowns. These are things that we don’t know we don’t know.** Now this is when things start to get really interesting. As you’re interviewing customers trying to dig deeper to truly understand their problems and struggles (instead of pitching your solution), you will if you play your cards right, uncover stuff that you didn’t even know you didn’t even know. 

This is where you’ll find the real gold dust of innovation. By understanding your customers better than anyone else on the planet, you are able to bring that knowledge back to your teams and use that as a starting point for ideation, prototyping and experimentation. 

Disclaimer: This is in no way meant as an endorsement of Donald Rumsfeld. It just so happened that his quote became relevant for the startup community.

17  LEARN TO LOVE CONSTRAINTS

Since constraints forces you to think in new ways to overcome them, creativity tends to thrive. What if we created an MP3 player that can fit in your pocket yet hold a thousand songs? or Southwest Airlines that were forced to radically reduce the turnaround time of their planes due to financial pressures. This new way of thinking eventually led to the world’s first low-cost carrier. So, in your next ideation workshop introduce some challenging constraints to see what new ideas you come up with.

Man crawling under barbed wire.

18  APPLY THE LEAN STARTUP

All this talk about creativity and constraints may sound great, but how do you actually go about innovating? Is there a process or something? Well, in fact there is, and it’s called “The Lean Startup”. Most people know it as the “build-measure-learn” loop, but there’s more to it. Here is a more detailed break-down of the Lean Startup loop.

The Lean Startup loop showing the steps.

Ok, so is that it? Well, kind of! But remember, processes and tools mean nothing without the right mindset. And the right mindset means nothing without lots of real-world practice.

19  PRACTICE A LOT!

The people on the left are skiing. So is the person on the right. It’s just that the person on the right has practiced more and is better at it compared to the two guys on the left. If you want to become great at skiing, you have to practice a lot. It’s the same thing with innovation. 

Don’t expect to become great at entrepreneurship after attending a weekend workshop on Lean Startup or reading a book or two on the subject. You must be willing to put in the hours. You must be willing to practice.

20  THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP

And that is exactly the role of leadership. Not to stop innovators but to enable and empower them. To provide them with the training and coaching so they can fail smart. They also should give innovators the space and resources so that they can act long-term and not impose the same financial hurdles that is expected by the core business or “business as usual”. And last but not least leadership should allow people to challenge the status quo…even if it at first seems a little crazy.

- ANDY CARS, FOUNDER & CEO OF LEAN VENTURES INTERNATIONAL AB, www.leanventures.se

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