challenge assumptions

Innovation Drives Marketing Drives Sales


Ken Tencer was recently interviewed on The Business Experience Show about The 90% Rule and how to bring innovation into your company.

Innovation is about bringing new ideas to your customers and keeping them delighted with your business. The 90% Rule book explores the practice of asking ourselves what we are 90% capable of, and what that next 10% will be. We have to think in logical and manageable next steps to determine what that next 10% can be. Highly successful and innovative companies are already doing this, and we should learn from their example.

A few ideas include:

Ask yourself what your company offers its customers. The great companies answer this with customer benefits, not the commodities that they manufacture. Think of Disney which is in the the business of fun, family and entertainment. Or Dove that is about Real Beauty, not selling bars of soap.  Companies need to learn to understand their core business and how what they do impacts the market.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Too often, we get stuck in our everyday rut and forget about networking and pushing ourselves to get out and meet new people. We all need to get out there and learn about what others are doing and how it impacts us.

Build a backboard of trusted resources to bounce ideas off. We don’t always have the answers ourselves, and we need to learn to lean on others whenever it becomes necessary.

Don’t forget to weigh and measure new ideas. We have to establish filters and use metrics to discover which ideas we should pursue. Treat those bright new ideas as live projects by assigning a champion to the idea. Task that person to grow and build the idea.

Companies that fail to innovate will ultimately fall behind in the marketplace. Recent examples are Hostess failing to grab hold of the healthy snack trend and Kodak failing to embrace the digital camera era. Whether you are a solopreneur or in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company, there is no need to fall into this trap.

To learn more about these principles and The 90% Rule, Listen to Ken’s interview at: or buy The 90% Rule book.

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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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Make yourself obsolete, or someone else will


by Ken Tencer
Originally published as a Special to Globe and Mail Update, Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

With Dyson’s new bladeless fans, generation of kids will be denied the chance to stick pencils through screens to see what happens when they touch fast-spinning blades.

For any other reason, you have to love the British-based company because its innovations are so obvious yet so breakthrough.

  • Safe, bladeless fans that move air without all the rumbling and rattling.
  • Technology patterned after jet engines.
  • Dual-cyclonic vacuums that suck up more dirt, more efficiently.
  • Airport hand driers that actually work.

Why were these products not developed sooner? Did no other company listen to generations of frustrated consumers? Or were the former market leaders simply too afraid to cannibalize existing products and markets by introducing something truly innovative?

Dyson’s success is a lesson to all business leaders: Don’t be afraid to make yourself obsolete, or someone else will do it for you.

For most companies that’s easier said than done. I used these words while co-chairing a recent innovation conference in New York City, and I heard the groans from the audience.

I have heard their thoughts out loud too often:

  • “We are the market leaders. We are too big to fail.”
  • “Our technology dominates the market, no need to worry,” said the buggy-whip maker to his horse.

Too many great companies have disappeared because they resisted change instead of embracing it. We may now be watching the demise of yet another giant, in photography company Eastman Kodak Co. The incredible thing is that Kodak actually saw and invented a future when digital photography would replace film. But somehow it managed to resist it. As analyst Chris Whitmore of Deutsche Bank told The New York Times: “The big story here is that their core business — the yellow box business — got cannibalized by the digital camera, which ironically they invented.”

The “good news” for investors is that Kodak is now soundly and strategically focused on digital-printing technology (in an increasingly paperless world?). I don’t mean to pick on Kodak, as it is not the first company to resist change, and it won’t be the last.

So where do we turn to find an example of an industry successfully making itself obsolete? Look at autos. Car makers recognized it was only a matter of time before the traditional combustion engine model gave way to newer, cleaner technology. So over the past decade they have gradually introduced us to the future, in the form of clean diesel, hybrid and now fully electric engines.

Each of these introductions started small, with expensive pioneering products sold to early adopters. This is how the industry developed its ability to introduce alternative technology, test demand, optimize production, and manage the transition. Today auto makers have a clear understanding of their market and possess the production capacity to ramp up a full-scale transition – fully cannibalizing the old combustion technology – without endangering their revenues.

The car industry didn’t just stay ahead of the curve – it created and managed the curve. If more of Dyson’s vacuum-cleaner competitors had shared that kind of vision, they wouldn’t be sucking air.

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