Saul Kaplan: The Kids’ Table

Do you remember being stuck at the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner growing up? I do. There were always too many of us to all sit around one dinner table, so we had a secondary table off to the side, sometimes even in a separate room, to which the younger generation was relegated. I remember asking every year if I would be able to sit with the grownups. The conversation at their table ranged from sports to politics to family gossip, and whatever the topic it was always more animated and intense. I know why now: it’s because adults love to talk about the state of their world and how it should get better. But what an irony: those of us with the biggest stake in the future-the kids-were not even hearing the conversation. Back then, all I understood was that the main table was where the action seemed to be, and I wanted in.

These days, I do get to sit at some main tables, but I try to stay mindful of whose voices aren’t being heard there-particularly when they are young and presumed not to have anything to add. I feel this most acutely in the debates around education reform. We keep kids off to the side while the adults talk and talk and talk about how to improve student experience and outcomes. And there’s another similarity to Thanksgiving meals: a lot of loud conversation and not much action! The talk at the grownup table never stops, yet year after year the education system in the US continues to atrophy and our students fall further behind the global curve. Every 29 seconds in America another student gives up on school, adding up to nearly a million high school dropouts a year.

Saul KaplanWhat if we put students at the center of the education innovation conversation? Could we get past our suspicion that they would make ignorant or irresponsible suggestions, and tap into what they know better than any of us: what works for them as learners? If we engaged kids in the problems facing schools, and gave them access to design tools, they might imagine a learning experience they would be more likely to engage in and commit to. What if we didn’t stick our youth at the kid’s table?

The notion of bringing kids into the conversation about what serves them best is beginning to take hold in various quarters. Ellen Galinsky did it in the midst of a cultural debate on whether children were better or worse off when their mothers entered the workforce. The audacious approach of her study became the title of her book Ask The Children. Architects who design the places where kids spend their time are doing more asking, too. Check out, for instance, these photos of the Erika-Mann Grundschule II in Amsterdam. “The school’s recently revamped environment is amazing,” wrote one commentator, “perhaps not surprisingly as it was designed by the kids themselves ….”

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Saul Kaplan: The Kids’ Table

Saul Kaplan: 10 Reasons Companies Fail at Business Model Innovation

Companies fail at business model innovation because they’re so busy pedalling the bicycle of current business models they leave no time or resource to design new ones.

Most companies focus innovation efforts on new products and on driving efficiencies into current models. These are important activities, but not sufficient in the 21st century when business models don’t last as long and face disruption. This means business model innovation is the new strategic imperative. In this post I outline the top 10 reasons why businesses fail to innovate.

CEOs don’t really want a new business model

The most obvious reason companies fail at business model innovation is because CEOs don’t want to explore new business models. They are content with the current one and want everyone in the organisation focused on how to improve its performance. The clearest indication is when any discussion about emerging business models is viewed and treated solely as a competitive threat.

Business model innovation will be the next CEO’s problem

Let the next guy or gal handle it. There may be a disruptive business model on the horizon but we can beat it back, pass laws to slow it down and treat it as a niche player. Sound familiar? Today’s leaders have never had to transform their business model. Tomorrow’s leaders will. Disruptive technology is everywhere and trying to outlast it is a risky strategy. Leaving the challenge to the next CEO is not a good idea.

Product is king. Nothing else matters

The lines are blurring between product and service business models. Take the iPod. Apple didn’t bring the first MP3 player to the market. Yet, the company changed the way we experienced music by delivering on a value proposition that bundled product (iPod) and service (iTunes). Industrial era thinking forces a false choice between product or service focus. A proud product heritage can get in the way.

Saul KaplanInformation technology is only about keeping the trains moving and lowering costs

“I’m from IT and I am here to help you … ” Many companies fail because IT resources are disproportionately allocated to support legacy systems. Deploying new capabilities takes a back seat. The prevalence of enterprise systems is a barrier to business model innovation.

A change anywhere within the organisation affects every function, making it difficult to develop new capabilities, let alone an entirely new business model. Enterprise systems increase the efficiency of the current business model but can be a straightjacket-constraining business model innovation.

Cannibalisation is off the table

It’s hard enough being at war with competition, so why compete internally? When executives look at new business models they see them through the lens of the current business model and view them as competition. Organisations fail at business model innovation because they blindly take cannibalisation off the table, even if a new business model may have significant upside potential.

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Saul Kaplan: 10 Reasons Companies Fail at Business Model Innovation

Saul Kaplan: Preach to the Choir

photo-saulHow many times have you heard the expression, you’re preaching to the choir? As if engaging with people who share your values and relate to your point of view is a limiting or bad thing. The adage implies that we should find other people, not yet indoctrinated, to engage with. It took me a while to figure it out, but the age-old adage is wrong. You should preach to the choir because that’s the only way to mobilize transformational change. If you want to transform anything find people who want to change, connect them with each other in a purposeful choir, and enable them to create an entirely new song. Proselytizing doesn’t work. You can’t make people join the choir if they don’t want to. Focus on people who want to be in the choir and make it easier for them to sing.

 

I used to believe that proselytizing worked to catalyze transformational change by convincing people who didn’t know they had to change that they needed and wanted to change. Over a thirty-year career spanning industry, consulting, and government I believed in and implemented a proselytizing model to enable change.  For years I believed that if I just yakked long and loud enough, if I just put together and presented one more smart consulting deck, and if I adopted what I call my ‘Jewish Aunt” approach to management by nudging I would ultimately wear you down and you would change. It didn’t work. If people don’t want to change they don’t. Sure, there was the occasional convert and a solid track record of enabling incremental change to the way things work today. However, my goal has always been and remains transformational change. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how smart and eloquent I deluded myself into thinking I was, people who didn’t want to change, didn’t change.  The 21st century screams for transformation not tweaks. We need a new theory of change worthy of the 21st century.

 

I have completely changed my approach and theory of change.  Ten years ago I founded the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) to put this new theory to work in the real world enabling leaders to design and test new transformational business models in education, health care, and government. Now, instead of proselytizing I believe in a catalyst model of change. Don’t waste time trying to convert those that don’t want to change, find people who want to change and preach to the choir. You will make more progress that way. Allow your choir to grow organically. Trust the choir to create the playlist.  Inspire everyone in the choir to be a songwriter. Celebrate and welcome diversity in your choir.  The more diversity the better because the gold and best value-creating ideas are in the grey areas between our silos, sectors, and disciplines.  The most effective choirs for change welcome voices from every range, weight, and timbre.

 

Leadership and mobilizing transformational change in the 21st century is about being a catalyst. It’s about getting a reaction started and then getting out of the way.

 

I remember back in high school and college chemistry learning about catalysts, the reagents used to get chemical reactions started. We need more human catalysts to help us get the transformation we all know we need started. Catalysts know the reaction isn’t about them. They know they’re starting something bigger than themselves.  The social system transformation we need is bigger than any one of us. Catalysts have an important role to play but know social change will only happen by getting the choir started and getting out of the way to let the choir’s siren songs work their magic. I also remember from science class that the catalyst doesn’t get used up in the reaction surviving to catalyze another day!

 

A catalyst model of change is about creating the conditions so people who want to change can connect with others like them to create purposeful choirs. Leadership is no longer about command and control or about moving human capital around the organizational chessboard. Leadership is about inspiring random collisions and connections in purposeful ways to solve real world problems. It’s about creating the conditions to catalyze engaged choirs both within and outside of the organization. A catalyst model of change isn’t about pushing ideas down trying to convert the uninterested masses it’s about pulling ideas up to find their choir. We need to catalyze self-organized choirs around the world enabled to explore and test transformational ideas and approaches at a scale equal to the scope of the social challenges we face. Go ahead and preach to the choir.

Saul Kaplan: Hourglass Theory Of Life

Saul KaplanTheories of life are a dime a dozen. For what it’s worth, here’s mine:

Hourglass Theory Of Life: Start with broad learning, narrow focus for impact, return to generalized exploration before the sand runs out!

Every life takes a different path but as sand moves inexorably through our personalized hourglasses there are patterns worth considering.

The top of the hourglass represents unlimited potential. While full with life’s sand anything and everything seems possible.  The future is brightest when we start with the broadest learning. No limits. No boundaries. Zen Buddhism teaches us the important concept of beginner’s mind, approaching everything with an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki

I’m blessed to see beginner’s mind in action every time I see our three year-old twin granddaughters.  It’s exhausting to watch them explore the world around them with reckless abandon, soaking up diverse inputs, experimenting with every sense, and squealing with delight with every surprising new discovery. All kids are born great. Our youth is characterized by broad general learning, the broader the better. The top of the hourglass is about foundation building. It’s about being a voracious generalist. It’s about keeping all opportunities open. The goal at the top of the hourglass is to explore the widest possible frontier of ideas and tools and to establish confidence in a sandbox full of capabilities that can be combined and recombined in unpredictable ways as the future unfolds.

As the sands of time move through our youth it’s important not to jump too fast into the narrow part of the hourglass. I worry about societal pressure to specialize too soon. There seems to be a steady drumbeat advocating for a narrow college education in order to maximize job prospects. Resist it if you can. Have you ever asked a group of people if they are doing what they thought they were going to do when they were in college? I have, and they almost never raise their hands. You can’t predict what you are going to be doing in the future. Why not treat college as foundation building and part of the top of the hourglass, an opportunity to explore a broad rage of interests and capabilities.

I think a liberal arts education is one of the world’s greatest experiences and the best possible preparation for an unknowable future. I didn’t get one in a rush to specialize and regret it. I nudged all three of our children successfully! It bothers me that as a society we aren’t making liberal arts education more accessible, affordable, and preferable.

The middle part of the hourglass represents focus and leverage. As the hourglass narrows so does our focus to accelerate and maximize progress and impact. It’s a wonderful time in our lives to mine our generalist foundation for personal growth. As the sand moves through the narrow part of the hourglass we specialize. We specialize as our interests and capabilities become more focused and clear. We specialize to advance professionally and economically. We specialize to better position ourselves in a competitive world. We self identify with how we choose to specialize. We seek professional credentials, titles, promotions, raises, and market validation based on how we specialize. The narrow part of life’s hourglass represents heady times. It can be a fantastic time of life with the right generalist foundation and strategies for specialization. It was for me, but something was missing. I didn’t fully understand it then but it was time for me to stop leaning against the flow of sand back into the wide part of the hourglass.

I’ve come to believe that the potential to transition from a competent specialist to being a voracious generalist again is one of the most important inflection points in life. There’s no right or wrong age to transition and of course many people choose or try not to. For me, it felt like a natural part of life’s journey. I don’t know exactly when it happened (I think for me, like for many, 9/11/01 had something to do with it) but at some point the specialization thing got old. It felt too limiting. At the margin each promotion, raise, professional accolade felt less important and relevant. It may happen in different ways and at different times in each of our lives but if we are fortunate we become free to unleash our beginner’s mind again. We become free to leverage both our generalist foundations and deep specialist capabilities to work on an entirely new set of important social challenges. We free ourselves to randomly collide with unusual suspects outside of our specialized silos and to explore the grey areas between us. The world seems new again and we are armed with the superpowers that come from a lifetime of experiences.

This innovation junkie feels blessed to be experiencing the wide part of life’s hourglass again and I intend to enjoy it and try to make a difference before the sand runs out.

Saul Kaplan: Sometimes Disruption Has To Hit You Right In The Mouth

photo-saul…..before you realize it can change the world.

As an innovation junkie and geek wannabe I’ve been paying attention to 3D printing and the exploding maker movement. When I say paying attention, I mean reading about it, watching hackers and hobbyists make stuff, and wondering if there is more to the technology than the brightly colored plastic tchotchkes cluttering my desk. 3D printing really hasn’t affected me yet. That is until I recently chipped a tooth and with the bothersome pea-sized chip in hand had no choice but to visit our family friend and dentist, Dr. Robert Serinsky. Sometimes disruption has to hit you right in the mouth before you pay attention.

Now, I was no stranger to restorative dentistry. About seven years ago I had chipped another tooth that required a crown and don’t remember the process fondly.  It required multiple, drawn out, not to mention expensive, visits to Dr. Serinsky. He first had to make a physical mold of my damaged tooth. The mold was then sent out to a local dental lab to cast a permanent crown while I was sent home with the inconvenience of a temporary crown made of a cured composite secured with temporary cement. Not pleasant! Weeks later, when my newly manufactured crown was back from the lab, I was summoned to the office for yet another lengthy dentist visit to secure it in place.

So you understand why I wasn’t a happy camper, facing the same fate again seven years later, while heading toward my dentist’s office with a similar sized chunk of tooth in hand. However, times have changed. This time instead of a physical mold that had to be shipped out to a lab for casting Dr. Serinsky inserted a digital camera in my mouth and the next thing I knew a digital image of my damaged tooth immediately appeared on a computer screen positioned right next to my dental chair.  Dr. Serinsky knows I’m an innovation junkie so he went out of his way to demonstrate his new high tech capability.  I watched my damaged tooth rotating in all of its 3D glory while he ran the design software to quickly and magically fit a digital crown on top of my chipped digital tooth. Voila! He even made a few manual tweaks to the digital crown using the computer aided design software, a little bit off the side here and a little smoothing there. I think the software had designed the perfect crown and he was just showing off in front of me!

It’s what happened next that blew me away and convinced me that 3D printing is a capability that will truly change the world, democratizing design and manufacuring. Dr. Serinsky pushed send on the computer keyboard and said come with me. He took me into another room in his dental office where he proudly pointed to a piece of equipment the size of a large microwave. The digital design of my new crown had been transmitted to a CNC (computer numerical control) milling machine. I have come to learn the difference between a 3D printer which deposits layers of material building up to form an object and a CNC milling machine which takes a block of material and carves out the desired object. I watched in awe as my crown was sculpted from a block of dental composite right before my eyes.

In about ten minutes, with my new crown in hand, it was back to the dental chair where it was expertly put in place permanently. Well, I hope permanently! I asked Dr. Serinsky if this new capability put the dental lab that he had routinely used to make crowns out of business. He told me he had just reviewed his budget and that his spending at the lab had actually increased. It turns out the lab is busier than ever focusing on non-routine higher value restorative work, it’s hard to get an appointment with Dr. Serinsky who is delivering better value to his patients, and I got a new crown in a single visit and a life lesson in disruptive innovation. Talk about a win-win-win! Disruption doesn’t have to have winners and losers if we get better faster at reinventing ourselves, and our business models.

I saw first hand the disruptive power of 3D printing. It enabled my dentist to be both a designer and a manufacturer. It has the potential to turn all of us into designers and manufacturers. It will change the world and create enormous economic value when we realize that design and manufacturing aren’t industry sectors, they are capabilities. Capabilities that when combined and recombined to create exciting new business models will unleash unlimited adjacent possibilities and enable us to co-create a better future.  Sometimes disruption has to hit you right in the mouth before you pay attention.

Saul Kaplan: Our Obsession With Scalability Must End

photo-saulWelcome to the era of business model proliferation.

Our obsession with scalability is getting in the way of unleashing the potential of the 21stcentury. We are so fixated with scalability we have taken our eye off of delivering value at every scale including the most important scale of one. The Industrial Era did that to us. Reaching the mass market takes precedence over delivering value to each customer. New customer acquisition trumps delivering value to existing customers. It’s not only business that is obsessed with scale. Our obsession with scaling a national education, health care, and government system has also taken our eye off of delivering value to each student, patient, and citizen. We have been talking about the idea of mass customization for years while we continue to hang on to business models that were designed for scale more than for delivering customer value.

The Industrial Era brought us the reign of the predominant business model. Every industry quickly became dominated by one business model that defined the rules, roles, and practices for all competitors and stakeholders. We became a nation of share takers clamoring to replicate industry best practices to gain or protect every precious market share point. Companies moved up or down industry leadership rankings based on their ability to compete for market share. Business schools minted CEOs who became share-taking clones of one another. It was all about scale. Bigger was always better. So what if the predominant business model doesn’t serve everyone’s needs? So what if it doesn’t even serve existing customers well? Scalability and share taking became about protecting the predominant business model by preventing the emergence of new business models. Incumbents do everything in their power to erect regulatory and legal moats to keep new business models out of the market.

You know the scalability frenzy is out of control when iconic entrepreneur, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, proclaims;

“For us, products don’t get interesting to turn into businesses until they have about one billion users.”

No wonder entrepreneurs are obsessed with scalability. Everyone wants to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Entrepreneurs always fall into the scalability trap of trying to imagine what it will take for a model to reach large numbers of customers before they have demonstrated that they can create, deliver, and capture value for only a few. Over many years of mentoring entrepreneurs I have observed them, particularly tech entrepreneurs, spend too much sweat equity and startup capital focused on developing code and a beta version of a web platform before they have a clear value proposition and a testable business model concept that can withstand initial customer contact.

Serial entrepreneur and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham says it well:

“As long as you can find just one user who really needs something and can act on that need, you’ve got a toehold in making something people want, and that’s as much as any startup needs initially.”

I always advise entrepreneurs to take a minimum viable business model to the market before thinking about scalability. Start by uncovering the job someone is trying to do, figure out how you can get the job done better, and demonstrate it.  Entrepreneurs skip this step at their own peril. Develop a business model prototype and test it with a few people.  If the business model prototype works, then and only then, start working on what it will take to scale it to reach more customers. It takes successful entrepreneurs three, four, sometimes five tries to get a business model right. Why worry about scalability until you land on one that works for the customer? Focusing on scale too early leads to too many elegant solutions too far removed from real customer contact resulting in too many dead ends.

Institutional leaders are even more obsessed with scalability than entrepreneurs. They fixate on protecting their current scale and assess all new customer value creating ideas through the lens of their current business model.  If opportunities to create customer value in new ways are distracting to the organization or would cannibalize current business they’re routinely dismissed.  The questions asked and metrics applied to evaluate new opportunities are more about scalability and fit, than about creating new customer value. The baseline for evaluation is the current business model. Market making opportunities are routinely screened out or ignored for more predictable share taking opportunities to increase scale.  This is why CEO’s are so hungry for merger and acquisition opportunities. It’s all about scale, not changing the customer value equation.  New business models force institutional leaders to rethink scalability.

We live in an era that screams for less share taking and more market making. Market makers don’t accept the idea that a predominant business model has to dictate the industry landscape.  They create a new market with a different playbook. We have access to more enabling technology than we humans and the stubborn institutions we live and work in know how to absorb. Today, it’s possible to unleash an infinite number of exciting business models to create, deliver, and capture customer value. Today’s consumers refuse to accept that there is only one predominant business model in every industry and that they have to take or leave its offerings.  Consumers now demand personalized experiences, products, and services.

Consumers are bringing the era of the predominant business model to an end. Business models don’t last as long as they used to. Predominant business models are crumbling all around us. The new strategic imperative for all institutional leaders is R&D for business models as a core competency.  It was easier to be a CEO in a world constrained by a predominant business model. In a world defined by business model proliferation CEOs have the trickier task of both pedaling the bicycle of today’s business model while leading the exploration for a steady flow of new business models.  If they don’t there is a market maker out there who will.

It’s time end our obsession with scalability. There are too many consumer, student, patient, and citizen needs left unmet by predominant business models in every industry. There are too many new business model concepts stuck on white boards and in consulting decks.  We are still allowing predominant business models to slow down and block the emergence of new business models that can better meet our needs.  It’s time to move from the era of the predominant business model to the era of business model proliferation. Let a thousand business models bloom.

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons From Taylor Swift

photo-saulI’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift. Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.

The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.

Over the last two years the bottom has fallen out of the U.S. album market with sales plummeting 20%. Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 defies gravity with amazing launch week sales of 1.28 million copies exceeding all expectations according to Nielsen SoundScan. Swifties everywhere mobilized to make it so. My daughter, the fangirl, drove this innovation lesson home for me. Alyssa maintains a tumblr site dedicated to all things Taylor Swift. I didn’t pay attention until the day she called home proclaiming that the pop star had followed her and had actually responded to her question about all important lipstick choices. My daughter was so excited you would think it was a national holiday! That’s what I call fan engagement.

As if that wasn’t enough to lock in a fan for life, my daughter’s next post was a video of her 3 year-old twin nieces (our granddaughters) dancing to Shake It Off. Cute, aren’t they? When Taylor Swift tweeted out the video to her 46 million followers, our granddaughters went viral. Now everyone in our family is a Swiftie!

Multiply the ripple effect from this example of personal engagement thousands and thousands of times and you begin to see how social isn’t about pushing a message out to potential customers, its about pulling people into a movement. Talk about force multipliers. Social business is redundant. All business is social.

There is also an important innovation lesson in the way Taylor Swift has staked out her position in the music industry business model wars. Album sales are declining rapidly because consumers are flocking to free streaming services like Spotify with over 40 million active users. Only about 25% of those active users pay for a premium service without ads, the rest stream for free. 40 million streamers can put a serious dent in album sales. Spotify pays per stream royalties of between $0.006 and $0.0084 which is significantly less than an artist can make through mp3 sales.

Not many artists have Taylor Swift’s market clout but when she announced she was pulling her music off of Spotify it sent a clear message to the market. Content matters and should be paid for. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Yahoo interview she makes her point of view clear.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for”.

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music”.

In a world where content can be digitized and the marginal cost of global distribution is virtually zero consumers have been conditioned to get content for free. It’s a business model free for all. Content producers have been squeezed mercilessly. Journalists, authors, and musicians are being decimated. Newspaper and magazine journalists have been let go in droves left to scramble to make ends meet as free agents. Authors bear the brunt of collateral damage from the battle between Hachette and Amazon. Fewer and fewer musicians can make a living pursuing their passion.

A dangerous narrative has emerged in which content creators are supposed to just accept that their content will be free. Authors are expected to write articles and books for free so they can make money giving speeches and doing consulting work. Musicians are expected to release music for peanuts so they can make money on the road doing concerts.

I have personally fallen into this trap as a steady content producer including tweets, blogs, articles, and even a book. How many of us keep pumping out content for free or very little money in the hopes that it will translate into value in other ways? Taylor Swift is taking an impressive stand. Yes it is in her best interest to do so but it is also in the interest of content creators everywhere.

Many new business models will emerge in the digital era. It will be messy while the market sorts out and balances consumer, platform, and content creator interests. Business models that don’t recognize the power of customer engagement and fully value the contribution of content creators are unsustainable. This new Swiftie is rooting for Taylor Swift’s continued success.

Saul Kaplan: This Is What Customers Really Crave

photo-saulThis is the ninth of a series of conversations originally published on the Time site, authored by Nicha Ratana and myself, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI.

“Today, smaller and smaller teams are building bigger and bigger things, faster,” he explains. In today’s marketplace—which is streamlined by technology and defined by abundant choice— “corporate muscle mass” such as factories and storefronts have lost the clout they had 50 years prior.

“What customers really crave is a sense of humanity,” claims Taylor.

“Leaders of economically successful organizations are every bit as rigorous about the human side of their enterprises as they are about R&D and acquisitions,” he maintains. Taylor encourages us to recognize the influence of passion brands. “Apple, Google, HBO” he lists, all have dominated their industry sectors thanks to the might of a zealous group of consumers.

“Ultimately, your culture is what sustains your strategy.”

The aspect of technological revolution that currently fascinates Bill Taylor is the power of businesses that are facilitated by technology, but driven by a human touch.

As a primer, he shares three guidelines for companies looking to embrace this new culture of work:

  1. Capitalize on what makes you unique.

Breakaway success requires a commitment to the unprecedented.

“If your customers can live without you, eventually they will,” warns Taylor. “You can’t just be the best at what you do—you have to be the only organization that does what you do.”

Taylor looks up to an early adopter of this principle: Southwest Airlines. “They were never a “low-cost” airline,” he argues, “they were a “big idea” airline.”

Taylor says, “Southwest’s purpose from day one was to ‘democratize the skies,’ to give rank-and-file families the freedom to fly. In the early 1970s when they began to operate, air travel was a luxury of business travelers and the well-to-do.”

Southwest was successful because “their strategy was completely at odds with the rest of the airline industry.”

  1. Create meaning and camaraderie at every level of the organization.

Instead of giving their employees the chance to amass power to get rich, companies must instead help them unleash freedoms from within, allowing people in their ranks to give input about the goods and services they produce.

“People want their work to be consistent with what they care about as human beings,” Taylor says. “The best leaders unearth the passion, energy, and commitment of their people by enabling them to make a real difference to their customers and one another.”

He urges companies to examine themselves. He asks them, “What does it mean—in terms of the language, the daily rituals—to be a member of your organization?”

Taylor shares a revolutionary tip: “The real use of social media is not so that we can market our product to a broader audience, but to give our people the capacity to humanize our brand.”

  1. Be kind—it’s more important than being clever.

We can’t thrive in a corporate world that sacrifices humanity for the sake of profit, Taylor maintains.

At a BIF Summit several years ago, Taylor shared a story of two automobile dealers his father encountered while shopping for a car.

The first dealer sold Cadillacs, a brand Taylor’s father had long been loyal to. Cadillac sent the man a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, but because he wanted to buy a car 24 hours after the coupon expired, the dealer refused to honor it.

The second dealer sold Buicks. After a conversation with Taylor’s father, this dealer offered to honor the expired Cadillac discount. The same dealer let the man test-drive the car over a weekend, and, when an emergency surgery prohibited timely return of the vehicle, sent a lovely bouquet of flowers with a “hilarious note.”

“Which car do you think my father bought?” Taylor asks.

“Small gestures of kindness send big signals about who we are and why people should want to affiliate with us.” He adds, “It was the highest ROI on a bouquet of flowers in history.”

Bill Taylor says he “always looks forward” to the Collaborative Innovation Summit, hosted by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI. Taylor has joined the lineup of radical business thinkers at BIF Summit more than once.

“I’m proud to say I crashed the first BIF Summit in 2004,” he says, “because I’ve been back every year since. It is one of the most exciting and authentic learning laboratories I’ve ever encountered.”

“Community is an overused word, but BIF truly is a community. We come together once a year, and learn from and support each other all the rest of the year.”

“I live for months off the energy that I get from the BIF Summit,” he professes. “It’s a poetry slam for innovators. What a refreshing break from standard operating procedure.”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”

Saul Kaplan: Thankful Innovation Junkie

photo-saulI love Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. What’s not to love? Food, family, and football are three of my favorite things. The prodromal smells of homemade cooking pervade the house which means turkey and pecan pie are only days away. Smiling is easy this week while making sure everything is perfect for the welcome cacophony of our kids and grandkids returning home to our empty nest for a holiday visit. Thanksgiving spirit warms the soul.

The best part of Thanksgiving is taking time to reflect on the things we’re most thankful for. It’s a strange tumultuous time and yet it seems as if there is more to be thankful for than usual. Perhaps it’s during trying times, with so many people suffering around us, that we are grateful for things we otherwise would take for granted. I am thankful for many things and thought if I shared them openly perhaps others would share what they are thankful for too. Who knows, maybe the Thanksgiving spirit will catch on.

Here are eleven things I am particularly thankful for:

1) A wife who is my best friend and the love of my life. I met her 40 years ago on December 7th, a day that will live on in infamy! She is a saint for tolerating this innovation junkie.

2) Three great children who despite our parenting have made us proud by becoming incredible young adults. They learned their lessons in irreverence well and are all exceeding my one expectation, to be interesting. (I should say four great children, including our son-in-law who makes us a better family and fires well on the aforementioned irreverence and interest dimensions.)

3) Incredible twin granddaughters, now three years old, who light up everything and everyone around them and give me incredible hope for the future. Being a ‘Papa’ is the best.

4) The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) team who keeps me young and continues to stick by me while I keep reinventing myself. I learn by hanging around them every day and I intend to stick by them. Together we are catalyzing an inspiring movement to transform our important social systems. I can’t believe we just celebrated our tenth anniversary together.

5) A growing network of smart and passionate people that remind me every day that social isn’t something you bolt on to the way your life currently works but an entirely new way of living. Connections seem an impersonal way to describe it. More like friends and fellow innovation travelers.

6) Living in a time when so much innovation is possible. We are blessed with the tools to enable purposeful networks to work on the real social system challenges of education, health care, and government. Transformation seems within our reach.

7) The temperament to thrive on steep learning curves and the confidence to realize how much I have to learn. The goal is to get better faster.

8) The blessing of time to write and for a network of innovators who encourage me to write more.

9) Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google, and Apple for enabling this free agent to punch above his fight weight. Self-organizing is no longer an oxymoron.

10) Being surrounded by people with an incredible sense of humor who make me laugh every day.

11) The opportunity to do what I love and to love what I do. Passion really is the secret sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for?

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

photo-saulThis is the eighth in a series of conversations originally published on the Time website, authored by myself and Nicha Ratana, with transformational leaders who will be storytellers at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI.

Innovating in Afghanistan certainly brings new meaning to the corporate term “change or die”. Over the course of the project, Col. Fritz had to resolve vast technological limitations and overcome cultural and language barriers. Together, he and his team synchronized the activities of 16 nations, spread across six geographical locations within Afghanistan, to build air power capability and ensure security for the country’s future.

The colonel, who in his spare time curates a blog at  GeneralLeadership.com and tweets management insight from his @fritzmt account to 95,000+ Twitter followers insists that lessons gained on the battlefield have many applications in the boardroom.

“People may not see innovation as one of the core competencies that come out of a military career,” Fritz says, “It’s actually the opposite — military leaders deal with change in complex situations every day.”

As a leader, “I am constantly finding ways to make my message connect with my team,” Fritz says. He considers himself a firm believer in “getting feedback and exchanging stories” — perhaps an unusual admission from a colonel who commands such authority.

Expected to deliver change on an incredibly tight schedule, Fritz encouraged his team to engage in conversation with their Afghan counterparts, in the hope of getting valuable feedback. The result: the coalition and their Afghan partners participated in one of the most open exchanges in the history of the mission. As a result, Fritz claims, they were able to “question basic assumptions and together, transform the training process.”

He adds, “Leaders often get wrapped up in the brilliance of their ideas and forget to include their teammates… Americans are used to doing things the ‘American way’; but in this case, what’s important was being Afghan-right.”

In conversation via Skype from Afghanistan a few weeks before his return to the U.S., the square-jawed, direct-speaking Col. Fritz makes it clear that he will not discuss politics (“because I don’t influence that”). He is a man of ideals – “more than just a guy in a uniform,” Fritz says.

One ideal Fritz lives by is that everyone should embrace “service” in their day-to-day lives, “in businesses, teams, churches and communities,” he says. He believes service should not be a concept singularly assigned to the military.

Fritz traces this ideal back to his grandfather, a shopkeeper in small-town Arthur, Illinois, who also served as the town’s mayor. Grandfather modeled for grandson the behavior of the ideal citizen — committed, engaged, proactive. “He used to say, “If it’s to be, it has to be me.’ That’s something I grew up with. Especially in a small town, you’re expected to participate in church, community and school; otherwise it just isn’t going to work.”

As a first step, Fritz recommends that we slow down and be more intentional. Talk to people, listen to them, see what they know, he says, just as his grandfather did while sweeping the sidewalk in front of his store.

Matthew Fritz looks forward to sharing his story this month at the BIF10 Collaborative Innovation Summit, a storytelling jam featuring transformation leaders, hosted annually by the nonprofit Business Innovation Factory (BIF) in Providence, RI.

How he helped to bring the Afghan Air Force to self-sufficiency is a tale about how to drive complex change management simply, a tale Col. Fritz is hopeful will resonate with the BIF10 community, a group he began to engage with via Twitter from Afghanistan.

He adds, “I hope to share a perspective into the military that might be a little bit different, and engage in the conversation.” He is “beyond excited” to be participating in his first BIF Summit. “I’m nervous,” he confesses. “I have worked with congressmen and ambassadors, but the folks at BIF10 are real movers and shakers. People whose work I’ve read and learned from, now I get to meet in person!”

The BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit combines 30 brilliant storytellers with more than 400 innovation junkies in a two-day storytelling jam, featuring tales of personal discovery and transformation that spark real connection and “random collisions of unusual suspects.”