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The D Series: Tools to succeed at innovation

Why getting in touch with your ‘feminine side’ is good for business

 

for Ken

 

Originally published on July 5, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/why-getting-in-touch-with-your-feminine-side-is-good-for-business/article30675493/

Sorry, men. But it looks like we are going to have to work a lot harder if we want to be successful in this new age of entrepreneurship. As the voice of the customer speaks louder and louder in the marketplace, the sound of “male authority” in choosing and driving opportunities to market seems likely to give way to better observing and listening skills.

Case in point: I sit on the Conference Board of Canada’s Council for Innovation and Commercialization. When we meet each quarter for two days of innovation talk and learning, we invite an entrepreneur into the room, to listen and learn alongside us, and also to share his or her inspiring story.

Just last month, when we were being hosted by 3M Co. at its Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minn., we were captivated by the passion and energy of Alicia Woods, chief executive officer and creator of Covergalls Inc., from Sudbury, Ont.

You may recognize Ms. Woods’s name and story from Dragons’ Den. Designing and selling coveralls that suit women’s needs and physiques, Covergalls began by serving the mining industry. In no time, Ms. Woods’s understanding that women had different needs – and tastes – from men led her into other products, from bibs and shirts to gloves and tuques. Now, her firm has also moved into forestry, energy, construction and manufacturing – and even ergonomic men’s workwear.

The first time Ms. Woods appeared on Dragons’ Den, in the fall of 2014, she slayed all five dragons – and secured a $75,000 deal from three of them (although two later dropped out during the due-diligence process). Two subsequent appearances on the show chronicled her company’s continuing growth and probably made the reluctant dragons regret their failure to ante up.

Ms. Woods similarly won over the Conference Board’s innovation experts. Picture the scenario: We were at 3M, one of the world’s consistently most successful and innovative corporations. Its innovation centre offers high-tech interactive presentations that both demonstrate 3M’s history of breakthrough products and promote the benefits of partnering with the company’s scientists and innovators.

So why did we find Ms. Woods’s presentation so compelling? She demonstrated the power of simple, observation-based innovation. You don’t need technology and science to create breakthrough innovations – just the vision to see a gap in the marketplace and the determination to keep iterating until you find a winning solution.

In short, she demonstrated three of the most important qualities of the modern entrepreneur: insight, passion and empathy.

* Insight, the ability to clearly understand a situation or opportunity, is paramount. Every marketplace is crowded. A great entrepreneur looks for the cracks and crevices where opportunity is hiding, where the goliaths of industry either missed the signals or were too encumbered by process and bureaucracy to respond. The humiliation of having to wear men’s coveralls in an underground mine – unsafe because of the lumpy fit, and poorly equipped for bathroom breaks – didn’t just make Ms. Woods angry. It opened up a world of opportunity.

* Passion, of course, is the hallmark of every successful entrepreneur. It’s why you so often hear investors, such as those on Dragons’ Den, talk about investing in the person, not the company. If you are not totally engaged in your venture and ready to push through every obstacle, then the long, winding road to success will probably end in a massive sinkhole.

* Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s feelings and needs. To me, the old cliché, “I feel your pain,” is the X-factor for business success today. And as psychologist Dan Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, noted in a Psychology Today article, “Women tend to be better at emotional empathy than men.”

Empathy is foundational to both innovation and entrepreneurship. To find opportunities, we have to be looking with our ears and listening with our hearts. I disagree with the critics who play down market research by saying customers don’t know what they want until we give it to them. Clients may not know how to create the actual product or solution that will ease their pain points, but they are certainly the best equipped to articulate their challenges – for anyone who is willing to listen.

People who are highly attuned to the voice of customers, through emotional empathy, will feel their pain best and are most likely to solve their problem first.

Note to the guys: Instead of scoffing the next time you’re told to get in touch with your “feminine side,” it’s time to take it to the bank. If, that is, you want to remain relevant in this age of empathetic opportunity and emotion-driven entrepreneurship.

 

 

In Touch with the Female Side of Branding

 

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My esteemed business partner, Ken Tencer, is a thought leading advocate of innovation.  He recently published an article in the Globe & Mail urging entrepreneurs to get in touch with their feminine side in order “… to remain relevant in this age of empathetic opportunity and emotion-driven entrepreneurship.”  I started to wonder if the same advice might also apply to male marketers.  Wouldn’t our brands benefit if we listened better, asked for directions more often and acknowledged how much we appreciate our customers?

In his Globe article, Ken quotes psychologist Dan Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, who says, “Women tend to be better at emotional empathy than men.”  Given that emotional empathy is one of the bedrocks of successful relationships, maybe it really is time for male marketers to get in touch with our feminine sides.

I’ve made the point in the past that building brands has a lot of similarities with tending personal relationships. 

I also believe that how much energy you put into it determines how successful you’ll be.  Getting in touch with our feminine side may tell us where to invest that energy and how to crystallize our relationship-building priorities.  It may also give us some additional insights into what facets of our brand are most appealing to women.

Business Insider had an informative piece by Kate Taylor about Kat Cole, the group president of billion dollar consumer corporation Focus Brands and a bit of a media darling because she used to be a server at Hooters.  Focus Brands is the parent company of Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, and Moe’s Southwest Grill.  Ms. Cole revealed her three top business tips.

1. Be honest, authentic, and confident in what you stand for.

According to Cole, your values and transparency are what differentiates you in the marketplace.

2. Stay incredibly close to the customer.

Cole responds to every single person who tweets at her, as just one small way to stay close to the consumer.

3. Do the right thing for the right reasons.

This golden rule should guide your partnerships, product launches, and funding decisions.

It seems to me that these tips are not only valuable for brand building… but also for life in general.

And while we’re on the subject of gender, should more of our brands intensify their focus on women?  Should traditionally male or gender neutral brands make a greater effort to develop relationships with women?  As a brand strategist and designer, my concern is not the politics of gender, but rather the purchasing power of gender.  And when it comes to making purchasing decisions, it is pretty clear that women are not the weaker sex.  They are goliath and their influence has the clout to make or break brands.

Ken originally published this on July 5, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/why-getting-in-touch-with-your-feminine-side-is-good-for-business/article30675493/

Will corporate intrapreneurs put entrepreneurs out of a job?

Speaker Seminar Corporate Business Meeting Concept

Originally published on June 5, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/startups/will-corporate-intrapreneurs-put-entrepreneurs-out-of-a-job/article30202880/

There’s nothing more faddish than some of the terms used when devising corporate strategy, and now, for better or worse, “intrapreneurship” is back.

Born in the late 1970s, when sudden market shifts first started to demonstrate that the average corporate entity isn’t actually good at adapting to change, intrapreneurship is a movement that believes big businesses should grow and innovate the way entrepreneurs do. The first wave of intrapreneurship never really took off, probably for two reasons: a) because innovation is hard, and b) because most big corporate leaders didn’t truly believe they could learn anything from small businesses.

But now intrapreneurship is hot again. Unlike the 1980s, the impact of entrepreneurial disruption is all around us: in the urban uproars over Uber, the fuss around fintech, and Detroit’s growing attention to Elon Musk and his electric cars. CEOs have to respect small business now, because visionary, nimble entrepreneurs are kicking them in the assets.

Check any business magazine today, and you’ll see evidence of this shift. The business models everyone is copying are those of Etsy, Zappos, Airbnb, Warby Parker and other creative, mission-based innovators. No one wants to be the McDonald’s of their industry (low quality, cheapest) any more. Not even McDonald’s.

What caused this comeback? “The potential of intrapreneurship is greater than ever,” says Hans Balmaekers, program and partnership chief with the Netherlands-based Intrapreneurship Conference. “The business landscape has changed. Consumers are more choosey today, and startups are better able to meet that demand. Intrapreneurship is an opportunity to do more experiments, faster and cheaper.”

Mr. Balmaekers says intrapreneurship borrows the best qualities of savvy startups: a bias for change, openness to learning and collaborating, a commitment to customer feedback, and tolerance for risk.

This month the Intrapreneurship Conference will hold its first two Canadian events – in Waterloo, Ont., on June 14, and Montreal on June 16. (In the interests of full disclosure, I have been invited to speak at the Montreal conference.)

Most intrapreneurship programs are still small-scale. They tend to be championed by just one senior executive in an organization, and confined to one group that’s specially empowered to test new ideas and fail fast. Mr. Balmaekers says it will take most early adopters years to extend that kind of thinking throughout their organizations.

Intrapreneurship starts with humility, which in big firms is rarely a core competence. “At our conferences, no one hides behind their business cards,” says Mr. Balmaeker. “It’s not about competing and showing off, but collaborating and learning together.”

When I first heard about the Intrapreneurship Conference, I must admit I wavered for a moment. Is intrapreneurship actually good for entrepreneurs? Do we really want market-dominating, resource-rich corporations taking our best stuff: our entrepreneurial hunger for disruption, our ability to turn on a dime, our commitment to constantly surprise and delight our customers? When our only advantage is agility, do we really want corporations to learn how to dance?

In the end, I concluded, the answer is yes. Of course we want smarter, savvier corporates making waves in their marketplaces. Small business won’t just benefit from the competition; we will all gain from faster-moving and more risk-tolerant markets.

Here’s why:

Entrepreneurs exist to spot gaps and seize opportunities. As bigger organizations embrace change and disruption, they will naturally become more open to doing deals with fearless, creative, small businesses. If big companies start attracting and empowering more innovative executives, they give us more willing prospects to pitch to and partner with. Having people at the top of big businesses who actually have budgets for new ideas, projects and processes will be a huge opportunity for visionary entrepreneurs.

Many ideas never get to market because of lack of funding. Creating more intrapreneurial organizations doesn’t just generate more prospects for small business, but also more potential strategic partners and investors. Many brilliant but cash-constrained entrepreneurs would gladly swap ownership of an idea for stock options (or employment) in innovative large company, if it means seeing their vision realized.

“Build to sell” is the mantra of many entrepreneurs. The more that large companies understand and appreciate the value that smaller independents bring to their markets, the more they will be open to buying early-stage ventures.

Innovation is increasingly being recognized as a key differentiator, economic driver and source of job creation. If bigger businesses become better at innovation, they will create a more robust and competitive Canadian economy – which is good for every business, small or large.

Entrepreneurs should do everything they can to help their more corporate-minded colleagues adopt the culture of intrapreneurship. It may take years, and many setbacks. Corporate CEOs tend to be risk-averse, status-conscious, and in office for a very short time. They’ll need all the help they can get.

Ken Tencer is chief executive officer of design-driven strategy firm Spyder Works Inc. and the co-author of two books on innovation, including the bestseller Cause a Disturbance. Follow him on Twitter at @90per centRule.