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Experts suggest using innovation in times of crisis

Photo credit: Dudu Leal

This post was translated from Portuguese.  It was originally posted by FIERGS in Brazil following a keynote presented by Ken Tencer at their Innovation Forum, “Innovation in Times of Crisis”.  The original post can be read at:

“Nothing like a good crisis to generate great opportunities”. This was one of the takeaways shared by Ken Tencer, entrepreneur and Spyder Works CEO, during the 3rd Forum on Innovation and sponsored by the FIERGS System, through Sesi, Senai and IEL. “Many great businesses have started during recessions,” he told more than 700 people who came to FIERGS Events Center this Wednesday. “It’s important to focus on key clients and invest in innovation in a few areas,” said Tencer, a leader in management and innovation, and co-author of The 90% Rule®, which empowers companies of all sizes to identify, prioritize and implement growth opportunities. “Every day I challenge myself and my team to search for the next 10% of growth. We have to think about innovation every single day”, he commented. During the talk “Cause a Disturbance – a Simple Way to Innovate Continuously”. Tencer, who also co-authored bestseller Cause a Disturbance (2014), recommended delighting customers, “because they will delight your bottom-line”. To do this, the Canadian speaker suggests always listening to your customers, “because that’s where your ideas will often come from”. He said there are six steps to ensure that innovation is lasting and targeted (1) Engage emotions, not numbers, (2) Change the lives of your customers, (3) Connect the dots – between your business and its customers, (4) Identify and rank the opportunities, (5) Develop a plan, and (6) Communicate the plan.

In addition to Tencer, Gijs van Wulfen, an expert on innovation and design thinking, from the Netherlands, also spoke at the event. Van Wulfen is founder of the Forth Method which has been implemented by 35 European companies and is a LinkedIn Influencer, with more than 260,000 followers throughout the world. Van Wulfen shared 10 insights to innovate in times of crisis (1) Teamwork -You can invent alone, but you cannot innovate alone. Innovation must be bought in by all, (2) Choose the right moment, (3) The pace of the process has to be slow, (4) A great idea is a simple solution for a problem or a dream the customer has, (5) If you don’t have new insights, you will not have new ideas (which is essential for the sound operation of a business), (6) Think outside the box, but present it in a box, (7) Have a business plan, (8) Connect with the client from the start of the innovation, because “he is your support”, (9) “Innovation doesn’t stop at the first No, that’s where it starts”; 10) Lead your people, show them the way.

Gijs van Wulfen also presented the Forth Method, with its five islands of thought. According to van Wulfen, first we have to know where we want to get to, and then, look for the knowledge to get us there. “Ideas will come after a while and, with knowledge, we can choose the best ideas, try them, get the feedback, and then outline our business plan”.

Also presenting at the Forum was the company Imobras, which was featured in the Best Practices Toolbox, an initiative by the RS Innovation Center in the State of Rio Grande do Sul. The Center was created to support businesses in generating innovative solutions to their own challenges.

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Curious About Innovation?

Guest blog by Norman Oulster, advertising writer and father.


One of my most memorable brushes with innovative thinking was when my son was in third or fourth grade.  His teacher, instead of asking her students to collect different kinds of leaves, asked them to look at the bark of different kinds of trees and tell the class what they saw.  This diabolically brilliant and simple exercise wasn’t designed to teach her class how to distinguish a larch from a linden.  It was designed to encourage the kids to hold on to their ability to see everyday things around them with fresh eyes.

The bark on trees, like many other things we see every day, eventually becomes invisible.  Our brains don’t see it as a threat or food, as a mating or financial opportunity, so we tune it out, the same way we tune out so many of the commercial messages, processes and even people in our lives.  My son’s teacher was trying to reverse that sensory triage.

That teacher taught me that you never know where you’re going to find innovators or what they’re going to look like.  They can be introverted or off the wall.  They can be hard workers or bone lazy.  They can be CEOs or part time workers on the loading dock.  But the one thing they all have in common is curiosity.

People who believe that they know everything don’t ask questions. Theirs is a world of certainty as they doggedly recycle the processes and policies that worked yesterday.  Innovators tend to look at life from the opposite perspective.  They don’t see the status quo… they see works in progress.  Whether through brilliance or just plain old contrariness, innovators look at something and wonder why it is the way it is.

Curiosity is the same engine that powers learning and innovation.  Curiosity lets innovators take the same information that others have and find new meaning in it.  Curiosity gives our brains permission to see familiar things, examine how they look and what they do and then boldly re-imagine them.

I still look at tree trunks and notice the amazing ways they’re packaged.  Some bark is smooth, some is like wide-wale corduroy, some reminds me of the plates on a stegosaurus.  In a way, trees stand as a reminder in my work to try to look at everything with curiosity and with fresh eyes.  I mentioned the tree assignment to my son the other day and asked him if he remembered it.  He looked at me as if I was barking mad.


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Add to Your Network: 5 Best Business Contacts

by Independent journalist and editorial consultant, Elaine Pofeldt. Originally published on The American Express Open Forum on February, 1, 2012.

business-networkingEven if your marketing budget is  tight, there’s plenty you can do to build your business. Networking is one of the most cost-effective ways to win new business. Often, it won’t cost you a dime, but to reap the rewards, you have to weave it into your daily business activities.

Here are five types of contacts to make in the coming months.

1. Smart people in other industries

People in other industries can alert you to best practices that you can bring to your own arena.

“It’s about exchanging information,” says Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works, a branding and innovation firm in Toronto and New York. He is co-author of The 90% Rule, which looks at how to evaluate and effectively act on business opportunities.

How do you find the right people to add to your brain trust? Ask yourself who to exchange information with that would benefit yourself and your business, says Tencer. Don’t know many professionals outside of your field? Join a high-level networking group, such as Vistage, that puts you in the same room with CEOs from unrelated industries.

“It really opens your mind,” Tencer says. “It gives you feedback on what you could be doing differently, by learning from best practices in other areas.”

2. Amplifiers

To spread your company’s message, get to know like-minded industry thought leaders, journalists and social media users with a significant following. These people will help you reach their audiences, says Tencer.

You don’t have to meet such contacts face-to-face to build a strong working relationship. One good way to meet amplifiers, says Tencer, is by offering useful information based on your professional knowledge. Post to social networks such as LinkedIn.

3. New prospects in growing industries

A good 44 percent of small business owners expect economic volatility to make it harder to reach their business goals for 2012, according to the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute.

You may lose some sales to clients who are in bad financial shape in today’s economy, but you can compensate. Add new customers who are in thriving industries.

It’s not likely to happen by accident.

“If you want to be in health care, make it a point to do some homework,” says Andrea Nierenberg, author of Nonstop Networking. She is president of The Nierenberg Group, an executive training, recruiting and consulting firm in New York.

Identify key players in the market you want to reach, and make a plan for contacting them, perhaps through a site like LinkedIn or with introductions from professional contacts.

4. Savvy suppliers

When you buy products and services, take the time to ask your suppliers about what they’re seeing in the marketplace. Consider inviting one or two to your office this year to make a brief presentation.

“They can definitely tell you about trends they have seen in your industry and in parallel industries,” says Tencer. Suppliers who do business internationally can offer a particularly comprehensive perspective.

5. Friends of friends

Forget the old taboo against mixing business with pleasure. Your social circle, from lunch mates at the office to high school friends, can be a great source of referrals. This works as long as they are familiar enough with the quality of your work to recommend you confidently to their contacts.

How do you foster unsought referrals? Be a recurring source of help to others in your personal, professional and volunteer networks. When you pass along a job lead or make introductions to a potential client, says Nierenberg, others will naturally want to reciprocate.

If you’ve lost touch with a friend, Nierenberg suggests that you set up a Google alert with that person’s name. News clippings and blog posts that pop up may give you conversation starters to use in an e-mail. Of course, if a buddy makes a valuable connection, you’ll want to take them to lunch or send a small gift.

“The better the relationships you have with people, the more likely they are to make introductions for you,” says Nierenberg.

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist specializing in entrepreneurship. Her work has appeared in, BNET, Crain’s New York Business, CBS Moneywatch, Good Housekeeping, Inc., Working Mother and many other publications. A former senior editor of Fortune Small Business magazine and editor of its website, she does editorial consulting for online and print publications.

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