business strategy

See the Innovation Glass as 90% Full


The 90% Rule for business growth is not a formula, it’s a philosophy.  It was originally developed to help business leaders keep their companies dynamic and fresh.  The idea is that if you truly understand what your business is already great at, then 90% of the innovation you need for new product development is done.

Just ask yourself what tweaks – in product features, price or distribution, for instance – can launch you into adjacent markets.  That 10% additional effort will launch your business into an era of low-risk growth.

If you make The 90% Rule part of your regular business routine, you will create a dynamic, forward-looking culture that is constantly finding new ways to serve customers, and is fun and engaging for employees to be part of.

But as people started to read our book, The 90% Rule, they began to apply it to their own careers and even their daily lives.  In retrospect, this makes sense to me.  Just like any business, we can all get caught up in the same mundane routines.  We can lose sight of who we are and what we want out of our lives, and fall into a rut.  In business, this is not a profitable place to find ourselves.  In life, it can be even worse.

In business, I encourage owners and managers to be prepared to “shed” their sacred cows.  These are anything that we have come to rely on – products, services, people or processes – as indispensible.  We have to change, to see “business as usual” as a dead end, so that we continue to be flexible and adapt to new opportunities and technologies, changing customer expectations and growing competitive pressures. It’s essential that we question the assumptions and sacred cows in our lives and businesses, to avoid getting stuck in the past.

Strangely enough, the more “sacred” we believe something to be, the more dispensable we usually find it is.

In life, I believe we all collect baggage as we grow and interact: ideas and understandings about who we are as people, and assumptions about what we can and cannot do.  Much of what is contained in those bags is imposed by others, but we must all remember that it’s our decision to carry this baggage around.  We must all take the time to review these “bags” and make conscious decisions about what is truly important and what can be shed.  Otherwise our bags may get so full that they over whelm the people we might become.

Not being an expert in the “people” aspect of these issues, I turned to a long-time friend, clinical psychologist Ian Shulman of Oakville, Ontario, who endorses the importance of reflecting and questioning in our daily lives.

“It’s important to recognize the invisible but influential biases we live with,” says Dr. Shulman.  “Always present, these ‘mental lenses’ tell us how to interpret events that happen in our daily lives and inform the decisions we make next.”

“Am I a good and worthwhile person who also happened to get a speeding ticket, or did I get the ticket because I am careless?  Do I have what it takes to attempt this difficult assignment, or do I just know that I can’t do it?”  Dr. Shulman says decisions like these “happen automatically, based on instantaneous tallies of my life experiences.  Even though the answers might seem crystal-clear and feel undeniably true, they are nothing more than mental events that exist only within my mind.  Of greater importance is what I choose to do in that next moment.”

Once we’ve reflected on and redefined what is important to us, we need to look to the future.  We must identify the “next 10%” steps that will help us move closer to becoming the best version of our self we can be.  In business, the next 10% is the logical next step your business should take to increase its impact.  This must align with the goals, values, mission and vision that you set for the company when you looked inward.

Following this approach in our personal lives will also be rewarding.  Knowing who we are and what’s important to us helps ensure we won’t get off track again.  “Begin to appreciate that we can decide who we want to be, and then start taking steps to create that way of living,” says Dr. Shulman.

For best results, make sure the people you welcome into your life also have their baggage in order.  Hopefully, they’ve thrown out the clutter to ensure all their baggage can fit into the overhead compartment of the plane – not hold them back at the oversize luggage counter.  “Find people and activities that are consistent with your more conscious decisions,” says Dr. Shulman.  This will keep you in better tune with the rhythm of your own life, and prepare you to stretch and grow in the right directions over the next 12 months.

I hope 2012 will be the year that you unpack, lighten, and move forward in dynamic new ways.  The good news: You’re already 90% of the way there.

Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc., is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations master better futures. He is co-developer of The 90% Rule, an innovation process that enables businesses of all sizes to identify new market and strategic opportunities, and to map out relevant, high-potential growth plans.

Ian Shulman is a clinical psychologist and the director of Shift Cognitive Therapy in Oakville, Ontario.  He helps individuals, couples and business professionals to cope more effectively with adversity and challenge. He has particular interests in managing stress, achieving workable work-life balance, reducing anxiety and flying without fear.

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Innovations Aren’t Us

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “retail” as, “to sell in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer.”

The dictionary doesn’t stipulate the size of the store, or even that you need a physical store at all. And this something that many “big box” retailers missed. They were operating on the “If you build it they will come” mentality, which worked for a while – but now it’s not. Last year, sales and profits declined at Toys R Us; Best Buy is closing 50 stores following a fourth-quarter loss of $1.7 billion; and even Walmart performed below analysts’ expectations last year.

The problem: many of these companies have underestimated the changes happening around them. Or as a true student of innovation might put it, they’ve been afraid to make their physical stores obsolete, and now they’re being forced to play catch-up.

If your business doesn’t try hard to make its processes obsolete, someone else will. Businesses, brands, business models and platforms all evolve – creating a need for continuous innovation. In big retail, innovation must focus on developing the right mix of platforms – bigger stores, smaller stores, kiosks, and digital storefronts that you access through your computer, tablet or smart phone – all enhanced by value-added services, education, and the building of dedicated “communities” of engaged customers and other stakeholders.

Can Toys R Us, Sears and Best Buy remain in “retail”? Yes. If, as with any good brand, they develop the right brand platform and a clear brand promise to the customer that differentiates, simplifies and builds trust.

Ten years ago Walmart was supposed to take over the retail world. Now, the Beast of Bentonville is starting to show stress fractures, and online retailer Amazon, with a net sales increase of 40% in 2011, is the new world beater. It’s time for the chains to focus less on what other retailers are doing, and more on what they are not doing: not clearly defining and supporting a customer value proposition.

Toys R Us, for instance, needs to revisit its value proposition and reimagine what it can do for consumers. Can and should it continue to bring toys and baby stuff together (to address the child lifecycle under one roof)? If it’s going to continue selling safety gates and other child-security accessories, should it also provide seminars on child safety, child care, or learning and development? Maybe it can convert some of its surplus space to indoor play areas and party rooms to promote children’s exercise and health. (Maybe it could even host baby showers!)

There is no shortage of innovation opportunities and possibilities. But nothing starts without a vision and a clear commitment to the customer.

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Ding-Dong, This is Your Wake-up Calling

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


Dove speaks to “real beauty,” and Revlon to hope. There is Martha Stewart who has redefined the notion of ‘living’ and, of course ‘O’, the empowerment juggernaut.

But Avon Products is still best known for “ding-dong” – the century-old symbol of how they deliver, not what they deliver. Well, today the middle class are not at home during the day, they’re at work. And every business now provides in-home shopping, through the Internet, and next-day delivery.

Avon’s recent fourth-quarter results showed a sales drop of 4%. After 125 years, it needs a new direction. Avon needs to build on platform, not process. Avon needs to focus less on finding new ways to sell its products, and more on making people want to buy them. Capture the imagination of consumers, and they will want to find you. Avon should cull its 20-years-behind roster of celebrity endorsers and embrace the A-list: a socially interactive, engaging and inspiring life of beauty, glamour and style.

Process and delivery are important to every business-consumer relationship; be on-time, be in-stock, perform the way you promise – but today they are a “given.” What you make and how you deliver is not as important as how your customers perceive your brand’s ability to positively impact their lives.

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