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AEIB-GraphicWe haven’t shared an “Inside the Executive Suite” piece from Armada Executive Intelligence in some time. We’re happy to have them back today with an article adapted from a newsletter they published on a leadership training program Walmart is rolling out in its US stores. The original Wall Street Journal story provided the basis for the folks at Armada to translate the Walmart situation to other organizations. (Note: If you want to learn more about the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief system and get in on this great publication for an incredibly low monthly rate, please visit the Armada website.)

 

Walmart and the Impact of Leadership Training

(via Armada Executive Intelligence)

Is your organization better off with employees that are better off because they work for your organization?

We would expect most C-suite leaders think this is true. Various factors, however, such as costs, regulations, perceived employee indifference, cultural barriers and other issues can stop leaders from acting as if they believe better off employees are better for their organization.

Walmart, a brand often immersed in debates about poor employee treatment, is piloting new training for both front-line employees and in-store managers. A Wall Street Journal story covered the Walmart “Pathways” initiative; in select stores currently, its roll out is planned across US Walmart stores by early 2016.

The Pathways training includes brief online modules supported by in-person reinforcement from department managers. Its curriculum includes job fundamentals for frontline employees plus strategic issues, such as the Walmart position in the economy. Department managers are receiving training, greater authority, and latitude to manage their department teams. There is also enhanced accountability for performance and results.

Long-term, Walmart hopes to create a retail industry certification as another leadership training benefit for employees. Achieving certification would demonstrate employee knowledge, competency, and employment potential both within Walmart and for other retailers seeking strong candidates.

Leadership Training Implications for Your Organization

While the average brand does not deal with issues at the scale Walmart does, the Pathways initiative suggests several leadership training possibilities at smaller organizations facing comparable issues.

Leadership-Training

There is a New Need Emerging for Frontline Employee Training

While the article mentions public relations benefits from this initiative, it does not mention training modules on customer interactions in the age of social media.

Previously, it could be a challenge to provide media relations training to executives interacting with the press. Now, with every smartphone-enabled customer having the potential to be an in-store reporter spreading unflattering messages about a brand, the importance of cursory media relations training for frontline employees is dramatic.

No matter an organization’s size, employees interacting with customers need to know how to manage potentially negative situations before they reach popular social networks and run the risk of spreading widely.

Consider Employee Lifetime Value

Customer Lifetime Value is an oft-mentioned concept, even if it is easier to reference than to calculate. The idea of customer lifetime value involves the benefits (relative to the costs) of a customer’s buying relationship with a brand. Understanding the lifetime value accurately helps brands make good decisions on when and how to invest in customer relationships.

Quantifying the impact of employee training relative to retention moves lifetime value into a different realm. An exercise to estimate employee lifetime value is beneficial for any brand. Beyond training and retention, however, a business could also evaluate how employees benefit the organization through their roles in customer retention, carrying out aligned brand behaviors, and reinforcing positive messaging among friends and members of the public.

Boosting the Value of Starting a Career with Your Organization

The Walmart retail certification warrants pondering how other businesses could follow suit.

With a shortage of skilled workers, there is greater benefit in being a preferred employer. This has motivated emergence of “employer branding” in recent years. While employer branding can be misconstrued as slick advertising promoting a business as an incredible place to work, it should actually focus on how a brand exchanges value with its employees. If the value exchange is more compelling with one organization than another, there is an advantage to employees. If the retail certification takes hold and becomes a gateway to more attractive future positions (whether inside Walmart or elsewhere), it makes Walmart a more attractive employer, as it would any company offering a recognized certification.

Within your own organization, are there opportunities to create a certification that directly benefits your employees, your brand, and makes it easier to attract the appropriately skilled people you need for success?

Strategically Smarter Employees See Improvement Opportunities

We advocate for considering all employees playing strategic roles. That does not mean everyone determines and forms strategy. However, it does suggest the value of all employees having enough of a big picture understanding of the organization, its customers, markets, and competitors to see what they do and the environment in which they do it in a strategic context.

By incorporating training in fundamentals, brand culture, and marketplace trends, Walmart is smart. This training accentuates the likelihood of an employee seeing his or her role as part of something bigger and important.

Frontline employees having a stronger sense of the organizational and industry big picture prepares them to better assess both positives and negatives in current processes. Instead of simply knowing something is working or not, strategic frontline employees can provide valuable feedback on early warning signs when strategy that appears fantastic in the boardroom is not working in the field.

Documenting the Knowledge of Tenured Workers

We have written previously on capturing knowledge of tenured workers before they leave – either through retirements or layoffs. With Walmart, its experienced department managers and senior employees had already been providing in-person training for employees. It was primarily oral tradition, however, with little emphasis on a formal process within or across stores.

If a brand involves its most experienced employees as primary resources for developing training, it benefits from a potentially more efficient way to document the tips, tricks, and heuristics its frontline management develops but rarely shares broadly or formally.

Are You Doing Enough with Frontline Leadership Training?

Your organization does not have to be as big as Walmart to see benefits from stronger frontline training. Even if you can do a better job on just a couple of these opportunities, you could be in a great position to document, with a high degree of certainty, that your brand IS better off with “better off” employees. – Armada Executive Intelligence

 

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Lens smashing is a common innovation strategy technique to get to the next level of thinking.  With lens smashing, you articulate different perspectives and create a forced connection or dot-connecting activity to see the impact of various combinations.

So what are the lenses?

When Strategos created the lens concept in the early 2000’s, it illuminated three external and two internal lenses:

  • External lenses – Discontinuities, Customer Insights, and Economic Engines
  • Internal lenses – Orthodoxies and Core Competencies

Smashing. That sounds really powerful, doesn’t it? It can be, but as with most things, garbage in, garbage out.

Let’s start with orthodoxies. I call them “sacred elephants.” In other words, they are the things everyone believes, but no one wants to challenge.

Defining orthodoxies in your organization can be similar to teaching an elephant to dance. Both activities are nerve-racking and intimidating. Who wants to point out to an elephant that it is not exactly light on its feet? Similarly, who wants to point out that the organization is clinging to beliefs that are clearly mistaken. Remember the Naked Emperor?  There wasn’t a rush to speak up and point out the fiction everyone was willing to embrace.

Dancing-Elephants

In light of that daunting view, let’s define orthodoxies in a way that feels safer.

An article called ”20 Cognitive Biases that Screw up your Decisions,” by Samantha Lee and Shana Lebawitz, gives us a framework to identify orthodoxies in an objective fashion that will keep you from being crushed. Delivered via an infographic, the article describes many ways we let our cognitive biases keep us from making better decisions. Orthodoxies also keep us from making better decisions.

Let’s take a look at a couple of these cognitive biases and convert them to orthodoxies:

Biases

  1. Selective Perception: Here is an example of an orthodoxy that reflects this bias about competitors: “Our competitors’ practices are unethical. If customers knew about these practices, they would be outraged.”
  2. Stereotyping: Here is an example of how this bias can become an orthodoxy: “That person, place, thing, process wouldn’t fit within our culture.” Think about that one.

Here’s a new innovation strategy tool: Take the 20 biases in the article and write as many orthodoxies as you can envision for each one. Break them up among team members. Duplicate with other team members to see what is common and what is different. Give a few to executives and see what they can come up with in a short amount of time.

Next, we make those sacred elephants flip. Take the orthodoxy and write it in a way that conveys the opposite meaning.

For our previous examples, the orthodoxies could read:

  • “Our competitors have as much integrity as we do. Our customers have a tough time choosing between our offerings.”
  • “Our culture is based on inclusiveness and diversity; the more different the better.”

How does that simple restatement make you think differently about the innovation strategy possibilities?

Do you feel safe to create new ideas? The sacred elephants are dancing! – Marianne Carr

 

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Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

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“I know you have a certain way you set up for your pizza meeting. But your pizza meetings COULD BE DIFFERENT.”

What’s a “pizza meeting,” and what does it have to do with creative thinking?

Pizza-Meeting

Back in the Fortune 500 days, we facilitated so many strategic planning workshop sessions we gave up renting creativity-oriented offsite locations. We’d make creative thinking happen wherever we could find a large enough meeting room at one of our headquarters locations.

At one HQ in Akron, OH, we sometimes wound up in its “multipurpose room. “ The multipurpose room had many windows, which is usually great.

The problem was the multipurpose room was situated in the middle of the basement. The multipurpose room windows looked out over cubes of people working in the pricing and accounting departments.

Yes, the windows looked out over the rest of the basement.

To do SOMETHING to make the space a little creative, we’d arrange the tables and chairs every which way. ANYTHING to take peoples’ minds off being stuck in the middle of the basement in a room with windows that ALSO looked out on a men’s restroom with the ugliest lime green color scheme of any bathroom in the world.

After one half-day workshop in the multipurpose room, we were getting ready to leave. As we were wrapping up, the next group came in for their lunch meeting. They looked in horror at the haphazard arrangement of tables and chairs and asked what had happened. I explained the arrangement was intended to put people into new positions and arrangements, stimulating creativity.

They immediately began scrambling to arrange the tables and chairs in an orderly fashion, telling us, “We always have the chairs in a U-shape for our pizza meeting.”

Heaven Forbid Your Pizza Meeting Would Look Differently!

Because of their over-the-top conviction about how they wanted their tables arranged for the pizza meeting, I’ve never forgotten this exchange.

Whenever someone says something about something meaningless HAVING TO BE a certain way, I always think it must be for a “pizza meeting.”

In fact, I had a conversation just the other day with somebody who was discussing a project they were working on that had to be a certain way. The certain way, however, was a way completely of their own design. Other than having pride of design, there was nobody else with any expectation of the certain way the project had to be.

What are my pizza meetings? What are your pizza meetings?

The thing is, as much as we might hate to admit it, WE ALL HAVE OUR PIZZA MEETINGS.

Yup, that’s a dirty little secret of creative thinking.

WE ALL HAVE OUR PIZZA MEETINGS.

We all have things we think HAVE TO BE A CERTAIN WAY, even though they could be nearly ANY WAY, and they would still work fine. Maybe things would work even better if we tried something different.

Yes, that’s VERY POSSIBLE . . . things could be better if your pizza meeting were different.

Always be on the look out for your creative thinking weak spots.

That’s where your PIZZA MEETINGS will be hiding in full view, as you cling to the same old ways of doing things YOU decided, even though they DON’T REALLY MATTER AT ALL. – Mike Brown

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Talking with various colleagues, clients, and potential clients recently, each discussion included a reference to innovation expertise.

“You’re the expert in innovation, what do you think?”

That started me thinking, “Am I an expert?”

Who exactly IS an innovation expert? And WHAT is an innovation expert?

I don’t know for sure, but here’s the first in a series of articles to explore the question.

One type of innovation expert knows a great deal about innovation tools and techniques that propel ideation to new heights. This is an expertise in facilitation.

Ideation

Facilitating innovation ideation is an art and a science that isn’t easy to do. It’s also definitely not for the faint of heart.

Good facilitation takes finesse, fast decision-making, an ability to read people quickly, and high energy. It’s all about the pivot- also practice.

You can read about many of these innovation tools and techniques. But you have to make it your own set.

Training by other experts is helpful (innovation training is an expertise for another article), but it takes the courage to practice, practice, and practice.

It reminds me of a stand up comedian. For a long time you make a fool of yourself. Some people like you and some people don’t. Your style works for some and not for others. You have to take a lot of risks. Work for drinks. And, most importantly, stand up and expose yourself, trying, almost every time, something new while perfecting the old over and over and over again.

What did Malcolm Gladwell say? 10,000 hours is the hurdle for expertise? Yeah, I think if you are serious about becoming the best possible Ideation facilitator, you are one kind of Innovation expert.

But again, that’s just one type of innovation expert.

Innovation-Expert-Tease

Your innovation expertise could also be in training, executing of innovation Strategy and Models, project management, and leadership.

Exploring those varied types of expertise in future weeks will help determine this innovation expert definition yet. That should lead to a snappy answer to questions about who the innovation expert in the room is. – Marianne Carr

 

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Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





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We haven’t talked about stealing (or copying) ideas as a creative strategy for some time. There’s a fun example, however, of what might be considered a double idea steal in the marketplace via Snickers wrappers.

Translated into a creative strategy formula, it’s an example of “Lead, Copy (1 and 2), Swerve, Integrate, Go.” Here’s how this creative strategy formula plays out between two well-known consumer brands.

The Lead, Copy, Swerve, Integrate, and Go Creative Strategy Formula

Lead

In 2006, Snickers switched its logo out in an advertising campaign. It replaced the Snickers brand name inside its parallelogram logo with hunger-related words. The key to making it work was depending on the familiarity of shape, color, and type to suggest “Snickers” despite its missing brand name.

Copy 1

In 2011, Diet Coke switched its logo placement on cans, expanding the primary logo beyond the can’s surface, resulting in a partial representation of the logo. Fast forward to 2014, and the Coca-Cola brands introduce the “Summer of Sharing” packaging promotion.  Coca-Cola replaced multiple logos on its packaging with two hundred-fifty first names of individuals or more general descriptors of how one person might feel about another person with whom they are sharing a beverage (i.e., Superstar, BFF, Sweetie, etc.). The campaign continued in 2015.

New-Diet-Coke-Can

Copy 2, Swerve, Integrate and Go

In September 2015, Snickers introduced new packaging, replacing its brand name on candy bar wrappers. Instead of using names, however, Snickers replaced its logo with various phrases describing ways people behave negatively when hungry. Highlighting ways people are not themselves integrates with the multi-year Snickers ad campaign featuring unlikely celebrities playing Snickers eaters before eating a Snickers turns someone back into themselves.

Snickers-Messages

Turning this Example into a Creative Strategy Formula

Whether copying ideas was consciously part of what actually happened in this scenario is irrelevant. When translated into a simplified creative strategy formula, you can consider ways your brand could use a comparable formula to develop a new creative strategy:

  • Is there a creative idea out in a market comparable to yours that is gaining attention and buzz that you could copy?
  • How can you swerve the idea in a way that makes it unique to your brand?
  • Once you swerve the idea, how can you further integrate it into strategies you already have in place to make it truly your own?
  • How can fast can you get ready and go with this newly swerved and integrated idea?

That’s an outside-in approach you can apply as inspiration for new ideas.

BTW, A Word about Personalization

In a recent creative thinking workshop, we spent significant time discussing how to enable consumers to customize and personalize a product. In the product category in which we were working it’s a capability consumers say they want, it’s difficult to do, and the brand suspects consumers say they want to customize much more emphatically than they are actually willing to do.

The Snickers example, however, is a great example of simple customization.

With twenty-one different phrases to choose from, it is easy to find a choice that fits you . . . or the person for whom you are buying the Snickers. I know I’ve taken great delight in personalizing the messages for my wife, who LOVES Snickers. Although as I posted on Facebook, my “snickers” at giving her truth-laden Snickers makes me feel as if I’m living on borrowed time until this promotion is completed. – Mike Brown

 

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Looking for Ways to Develop a Successful
Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Googling “innovation and failure” yielded these top five stories:

  1. Creating An Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure is Necessary
  2. Baba Shiv: Why Failure Drives Innovation
  3. Failure is the Mother of Innovation
  4. Why most innovations are great big failures
  5. Why Failure Is the Foundation of Innovation

It’s evident that when it comes to innovation and failure, we LOVE IT!

Innovation and failure is cavalier.

Innovation and failure shows you’re swinging for the fences.

Innovation and failure is hip to write about online.

The dirty little secret, however, is when you’re actively failing, failure SUCKS, and it’s not as if you have lots of friends wanting to hang around your failure.

Case in point, is an article in the New York Times by Bruce Shoenfeld about Kansas City Royals manager, Ned Yost. The article, titled “How Ned Yost Made the Kansas City Royals Unstoppable,” starts with recounting how smart baseball people prove their smarts by calling out Ned Yost as an idiot.

Experts Love Innovation and Failure, but Hate Ned Yost

 

Ned-Yost-Scoreboard

What’s intriguing is while Ned Yost has had ongoing peaks of legitimate baseball success, he has also failed. A lot.

And while innovation-oriented articles tell us to LOOOOOOOOVE failure because it’s all innovativeish, when you’re a sports fan and it looks like your favorite baseball team’s manager is making decisions leading to failure, we don’t feel great about it.

Why?

Because when you’re going through failure . . . it . . . wait for it . . . SUCKS! BIG TIME!

Which bring us back to Ned Yost and why he creates such consternation, angst, and revulsion as a baseball manager: Ned Yost makes conscious decisions to FAIL while pursuing long-term success.

For example, in response to questions about why he sticks with less than stellar fielders or pitchers that seem unable to get batters out with any level of effectiveness, Yost explains his strategic patience amid situations reeking of failure:

“I wanted to put those young players in a position to gain experience, so than when we could compete for a championship, they’d know how. You can’t do that when you’re pinch-hitting for young guys. You can’t do it when you quick-hook starting pitchers. They’ll never learn to work themselves out of trouble. People would say, ‘What’s he doing?’ They didn’t understand. I’D RATHER LOSE A GAME ON MY WATCH SO THEY COULD WIN LATER.” (The caps are mine.)

Yes, Ned Yost makes conscious decisions to tolerate failure in order to learn.

AND IT DRIVES FANS (and baseball experts) CRAZY!!!

Do people REALLY love failure?

It’s one thing to extol failure as a valuable experience in an innovation-oriented blog or business magazine article. When you actually experience failure, especially when it is happening over and over again, the story is very different.

So how do you feel about actually going through the intertwining of innovation and failure on the way to potential future success?

And how about those Kansas City Royals – do you think they look unstoppable? – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Looking for Ways to Develop a Successful
Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





Download Your Free  Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book




Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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As always, click on the headline to go to the original link. Enjoy! 

Ten Stages of Creativity – Love Sandwich

“The question of what creativity is and how it works will perhaps remain humanity’s most unanswerable — but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.” –  Maria Popova, Brainpickings

Bookmark this article on the stages of creativity and refer to it again, and again, and again. There are great links to the “Wisdom of the Ages” about creativity and ideation. It also features the 10 Stages of Creativity articulated by filmmaker Tiffany Shlain:

  1. The Hunch
  2. Talk about it
  3. The Sponge
  4. Build
  5. Confusion
  6. Just Step Away
  7. “The Love Sandwich”
  8. The Premature Breakthroughlation
  9. Revisit Your Notes
  10. Know When You’re Done

This article started me thinking about the confusion that comes when talking about creativity and innovation. Is there a difference? Of course. But we can all agree that creativity and innovation are very close cousins. It’s difficult to talk about innovation without talking about creativity.

These stages of creativity seem to be a more organic, intuitive approach an artist would followed in painting, writing or filmmaking. However, I can see a parallel path for innovation.

Is there a Confusion Stage in Innovation?

Check. It’s not official, but it’s there.

How about “The Love Sandwich” Stage?

2-The-Love-Sandwich

Here’s the description from Shlain on The Love Sandwich stage:

“To give constructive feedback, always snuggle it in love — because we’re only human, and we’re vulnerable… Set expectations for where you are in the project, then ask questions in a way that allows for ‘the love sandwich.’ First, ‘What works for you?’ Then, ‘What doesn’t work for you?’ Then, ‘What works for you?’ again. If you just ask people for feedback, they’ll go straight for the jugular.” 

How helpful could this stage be during innovation?

It reminds me of the right way to critique ideas during an ideation workshop.

We all know “No” is a bad word when ideating. The more positive way to challenge an idea is instead of saying, “No, that won’t work because we only produce ten widgets an hour,” to phrase the negative feedback in question form.

For example “How might this work if we only produce ten widgets in an hour?” An alternative is, “In what ways does the number of widgets we currently produce in an hour impact this idea?”

This questioning approach opens the mind, allowing feedback to focus on recognizing opportunities and not shutting them down. Still though, a Love Sandwich sounds more fun!

There might be an opportunity to create an innovation tool mirroring Shlain’s stages of creativity, but with more rigor around the value proposition for your organization. After all, creating art is its own reward; innovation is not. – Marianne Carr

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

 

ebook-cover-redoBoost Your Creativity with “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”

Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help you generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Download Your Free

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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