Thought Sparks Wrap Up - August 2021

Dear colleagues, 

Welcome to the monthly newsletter, with a wrap-up of my weekly Thought Sparks and some things to watch out for in September.  If you’d like to tap into the full Tuesday sparks, you can subscribe on Substack and get them delivered right to your “in” box every Tuesday.

Subscribers also get an early sneak peek at an on-line capability-building course I’m developing to help with innovation.   

Inflection Points Shift Key Metrics – Are You Paying Attention? (August 3, 2021)

A potentially game-changing inflection point shows up when the key metrics underlying your business have the potential to change on a 10X scale.  Here’s where to look to see if that is happening.

As I describe in Seeing Around Corners, inflection points in business have a 10X impact – making things 10X cheaper, 10X smarter, 10X faster, and so on – than was possible before the inflection point took place.  Incumbents, however, are so used to looking at the world through the taken for granted lenses of the original business that they don’t see the change coming – until it’s too late.  This is particularly true with the digital revolution, which is causing companies who “get” digital to leapfrog those that don’t.  

Ask – “Is there a way that someone could invent something that would make some part of our system 10x faster, 10x cheaper or 10x better, by incorporating digital technology?.” 

You asked, We Answered: Questions on Innovation from a conference sponsored by Visagio of Brazil (August 20, 2021)

We broke up the format a little for this one, taking on free-ranging topics that came up when I gave a talk for Visagio’s clients from all over the world. 

What are the risks and benefits of completely changing a business model?

This is a huge transformational challenge, as a change in business model means that incentives, metrics, KPI’s, power relationships and structures are all likely to have to change.  This article, co-written with Valize partner Ron Boire, takes you through the challenges of transformation, what pitfalls might be encountered and some remedies.   

How do we best organize to foster an innovation environment?

We see organizations on a continuum with respect to innovation mastery. Those at the lower end have not built a capability to innovate and are trying to force-fit innovation into a business designed to deliver today’s products and services. Those at the high end have organization-wide practices (such as making small amounts of resources available for experimentation at the front lines).  At Valize, we have developed an Innovation Mastery Scale Assessment which can tell you where your organization falls.  You can learn more about it, including a video explainer, here

How do we know it may be time to disengage from a business, even if it is profitable today?

Look at factors such as quality of talent you’re able to attract, customers reporting a cheaper offering is “good enough” or a lack of genuine future growth propensity. 

You can watch a video of me describing the process of healthy disengagement here.   

And more! 

We need to talk about the pandemic post-mortem.  Five mechanisms to avoid future catastrophe (August 17, 2021)

How can we get people to invest today in preventing something bad that might happen tomorrow, but which isn’t a definite thing?  I talk about 5 approaches: 

  1. A vivid story 

  2. Helpful Cassandras 

  3. Multiple Resource Pools 

  4. Give decision-makers a stake in the future 

  5. Leverage an external rule-maker 

The Discipline that Turns Vision into Reality (August 24, 2021)

In this Thought Spark, I use the example of a real Kickstarter project, the Tego adventure kit (a replacement for conventional toolkits) to demonstrate the power of the deliverables specification – a core concept in discovery driven growth. Basically, you start with your goals and work backward to determine what must be true for them to work out.  It’s a powerful discipline. 

Discovering Perfectly Predictable Mistakes - Before You Make Them (August 31, 2021)

When your ideas live in 'Thoughtland', the mystical place where there is no failure, it sounds awesome. 

Yet you still need a framework before committing to them in real life!

A discovery driven learning approach (the DDP) is based on a focus for planning that can help discover perfectly predictable mistakes.  How can you do so?  First start with the future then go backwards!

In the Press 

  • It’s not the pandemic, it may be you who is killing your business - LiveMint-Article  

  • How Can Leaders Prepare for the Unexpected? - CMS Wire  -  Article

  • At Microsoft, Nadella’s role grows? -  Market Place -  News Program

  • Business School Briefing: Change management cliché,MBA jobs surge - Financial Times - Article

Upcoming Events 

September 3 – An Ask Me Anything and Preview of our learning system

Due to a little scheduling dustup, my Friday Fireside Chat with Zoe Chance is going to start a bit later than our normal 11:00 Eastern time beginning. So I thought it would be a great opportunity for some dialogue with our listeners in a free-ranging format. I’ll start with a sneak preview of some learning modules we are building and then take your questions!  That will be from 11:00-11:45, and then we’ll welcome Zoe. 

September 3: Friday Fireside Chat - Rita McGrath & Zoe Chance

Zoe Chance graduated from a massively successful corporate career to doing groundbreaking research to teaching a hugely popular elective at Yale called Mastering Influence and Persuasion, aka "Doing Uncomfortable Things That Make You a Better Person.” She's a TED speaker, consults with major companies and has a new book coming out in 2022, "Influence for Nice People: The New Science of Making More Friends, Money, Impact—and Joy." We'll be talking about the practical implications of her research and how it can be used to help people do some good in the world. I'm really looking forward to it! As she says, "we cannot change people's minds, but we can influence their behavior when we learn how the mind works.

September 10: Friday Fireside Chat - Rita McGrath & Jonathan Brill

We think of unusual events as rare - but as my Friday Fireside Chat guest, Jonathan Brill, points out, they may be rare individually, but when they accumulate, the chance of their creating a catastrophic inflection point increases. Indeed, his research finds that most firms in the US have faced four significant calamities every year! These are what he calls "rogue waves" or events in business that are like the huge waves that can come seemingly out of nowhere to sink even large ships. While he was at HP, he had the amazing title of Global Futurist and Director long term research. He's going to be talking about how you get people to pay attention to the possibilities, how to change behavior and how to change culture so that the action needed today to be resilient in an uncertain future is taken. It should be fascinating - join us!

September 21: Launch of Paperback edition of Seeing Around Corners

Paradigmatic shifts in the business landscape, known as inflection points, can either create new, entrepreneurial opportunities (see Amazon and Netflix) or they can lead to devastating consequences (e.g., Blockbuster and Toys “R” Us). Only those leaders who can “see around corners”—that is, spot the disruptive inflection points developing before they hit—are poised to succeed in this market.

October 18: Columbia - Leading Strategic Growth and Change Program

Leading Strategic Growth and Change (Live Online) is a five-day virtual program focused on the process of finding opportunities, launching new ventures, and leading necessary organizational changes to revitalize and transform an organization in times of uncertainty. Participants will learn how to thrive in rapidly changing and highly uncertain environments and will be able to immediately apply their learning to make rapid progress on an issue they identify.

Events Calendar

Replay Past Events 

Friday Fireside Chat - Rita McGrath  &  Jayshree Seth

Center on Global Energy Policy Workshop: Energy and the “S” in ESG Investing

Lou Carter Show - Seeing Around Corners - Linkedin Live

Friday Fireside Chat - Rita McGrath & Jeff Saviano

Thinkers50 LinkedIn Live with Robin Speculand- Author of Worlds Best Bank

August at Valize

We couldn’t be more excited to be looking at the autumn launch of our SparcHub Innovation capability growth program. It’s very cool software combined with some advisory to set your organization up for success, a learning system that is on-demand as you are learning and coaching for your project teams. Happy to share what we’re working on but it isn’t quite ready for prime time yet.   

Working Together!

Here are some ways we can work together: 

  1. We can help you kick-start the design of your innovation program in a 30-day sprint. 

  2. We can review your innovation portfolio, free up resources by killing a few zombies and make some space for your future business.

  3. We can help you diagnose your level of innovation mastery 

  4. Have a team with issues? We can help fix that with a simple team effectiveness program 

  5. And of course, you can subscribe to my regular publications on Thought Sparks 

    If you’re feeling stuck or wondering what the next best strategic move is, drop me a note at and let’s see what we can do.   

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