product development

The Three Basic Tools of Innovation: Eyes, Ears & Feet


Innovation Insights

One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO

During a recent presentation on product innovation to the HBA Global Expo in New York City, I was asked a great question:  “What tools do I need to be a great innovator?”  My answer surprised many people with its simplicity: “Your eyes and ears.” Innovations are all around us, and when we take time to notice them they can stimulate more creative thoughts within each of us.  And I really should have also added “feet,” because the day before I had walked 40 Manhattanblocks looking for interesting and outrageous inputs to spur my own innovative thinking.  Here are two examples of what I found:

First, I noted that Ben & Jerry’s has introduced new Greek frozen yogurt.  They’re jumping on the trend that has seen smoother, higher-protein Greek yogurt double sales in each of the past three years.  It’s still not that healthy – Ben & Jerry’s positions its Greek frozen yogurt as a “reasonable reward,” not health food.  But it’s a fast, clever move to harness consumers’ changing tastes and growing health concerns, while maintaining Ben & Jerry’s reputation for flamboyant branding.  Who else would sell Greek frozen yogurt in flavors such as Strawberry Shortcake, Raspberry Fudge Chunk and Banana Peanut Butter?

I couldn’t miss the A&E TV show Storage Wars.  Why do people love this reality show?  It’s about discovery.  Four (and now more) modern-day treasure hunters, competing to find abandoned storage lockers concealing antiques, bargains, collectibles and other forgotten finds.  In tough economic times, this combination of hope, disappointment and triumph has become a magic elixir to lighten our daily struggles.

If you’re a product developer or retailer, the point is this: little discoveries and everyday surprises are all it takes to engage today’s cash-strapped consumers.

Next time you’re in a distant city – or even a new part of town – don’t even think of sitting back in a cab or going deep underground in the subway.  Take a walk.  Look up, look down, notice what people are wearing, venture into stores you’d never normally go into.  The more we get out of the office to see and hear other people, other products, other places and new approaches, the more ideas we can gather to make our own work more innovative and impactful.

Plus, it’s healthy.

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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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Product Development for Brand Managers

Win-novation™: The Missing Link


Join me in NY at the HBA Global Expo on Tuesday June 19th as I join a panel to discuss Product Development for Brand Managers: Understanding Technical Thinking: Extraordinarily successful innovations mask the complexity behind them. Be it in business, the arts, engineering, or the sciences; when well executed, it all looks so deceivingly simple. We just intuitively “get it”. Success is maximized when a product’s “push” matches the market’s “pull”.  The “what”, “how”, and “when” to launch is a strategic discipline that requires alignment across several disciplines around a project. Just because “we can” doesn’t necessarily mean “we should”. Members of the team need to be reciprocally influenced by the overall team’s skills and insights.

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