Thought Sparks Wrap Up - October 2021

Setting the stage for innovation in 2022

Dear colleagues,

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that resilience, imagination and innovation aren’t optional if an organization is to thrive going forward. Labor issues, rapid technological change, digitization and the other seismic shifts in the global economy mean we need an innovative response. The big question I’ve been getting lately is “so, how do I get started?” This brand-new article in the Harvard Business Review offers a roadmap. In my experience, you can work through these questions in 30-60 days, making it the perfect project for the last two months of 2021. Contact me on if you’d like to talk through the approach.

If you like presentations better than articles, you’ll find one here.

As I’ve been doing in 2021, this wrap-up gives you an overview of my weekly Thought Sparks news pieces, intended to do exactly that – spark your thinking!

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Positioning: Beyond the Statement (October 5, 2021)

If you’ve ever taken a marketing class, you will have been introduced to the concept of a positioning statement – the template that is supposed to sort out your challenges in figuring out who your offer is for, what it does, why it’s better than the competition and how you intend to win. Unfortunately, as the brilliant April Dunford points out in her book Obviously Awesome, these templates don’t tell you how to come up with a winning positioning approach.

Check out the full article for a summary of April’s approach with some color commentary from me.

When HR really does get a seat at the table! Congratulations to Kathleen Hogan on being recognized as the HR Executive of the Year (October 12, 2021)

Empathy is not exactly a trait I would associate with the historical culture of Microsoft, famous for being both internally and externally competitive, to the point of dysfunction. Well, CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Human Resources Officer Kathleen Hogan determined to fix that in a massive culture change program that ….actually worked!

This Thought Spark outlines their approach, including building incentives around leading indicators, insisting on empathy for customers and adopting a growth mindset. You’ll also find a handy framework for thinking about your own company culture and the levers you might use to change it.

Ecosystem Maturity and the Stepping-Stone Strategy (October 19, 2021)

It’s one of those eternal puzzles – why some ideas that later reveal themselves to be amazing innovations don’t take off, yet something almost identical is introduced later on and flourishes. Often, the culprit is that the ecosystem into which a new offering is being introduced is not yet “ripe” enough to deliver a complete customer experience.

In this Thought Spark, reprinted with permission from the Thinkers50 book Ecosystems, Inc. I discuss how you can assess the ripeness (or not) of your ecosystem. Examples range from the ill-fated, but wildly ahead of its time AT&T picturephone to the military’s “Expedient leader-follower program.” I also describe the stepping-stone strategy, an approach to building out an ecosystem that starts with a niche that has a real problem only your solution can address, then expands from there.

Can you hear me now? A “Seeing Around Corners” early warning materializes (October 26, 2021)

In Seeing Around Corners, I suggested that an unlikely coalition of dissatisfied stakeholders would eventually dismantle the regulatory regime that leaves 4 out of every 5 people who need help with their hearing stranded. And now, guess what – it’s happening!

This Thought Spark covers the original argument from the book, describes how it is evolving now, suggests how new entrants will benefit and shows how – of course – incumbents are grumbling. But any sector that has hostages, not customers, leaves itself open to a disruptive inflection point. This is what’s happening now.

In the Press 

  • The future can’t be wished away but there are ways to deal with it- Mint. -  Article  

  • The Innovation Theater Trap - Duke Corporate Education Blog

  • 3 Questions to Future-Proof Your Business- Forbes-    Article 

Upcoming Events 

November 5:  Friday Fireside Chat with Robert Livingston

I promised Harvard Professor and expert on equality and inclusion Robert Livingston that I would read his book "The Conversation" before he joined me for a Friday Fireside Chat. I did, and am ever so glad. He takes us through a journey centered on three questions: What is racism? Why should everyone care? What can we do to eradicate it? Professor Livingston de-mystifies many misconceptions about racism in a reasonable, non-threatening, and deeply researched way. And the cliff notes are - racism is enduring and endemic. We should care because it hurts all of us. And - really good news - there is a path to solving it. Join us - I think we will all learn a lot.

November 12:  Friday Fireside Chat with Lisa Wiseman

Liz Wiseman changed the way we think about high-performing organizations with her groundbreaking book "Multipliers." She found that, despite the best of intentions, some leaders diminish the creativity and impact of their teams while others multiply those same attributes. The performance effects are astonishing! Now, she has a new book on the brink. "Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger and Multiply Your Impact." I'm really looking forward to learning about what she's discovered in this upcoming Friday Fireside chat. It will be a great conversation.

November 15-16: Thinkers50 Virtual Event

I will be speaking at the Thinkers50 Awards Gala 2021 during session 3 on November 15th at 12:30 pm EST speaking on The Purpose of Strategy-The Why in Strategy 

November 17-19: Drucker Forum Panel

We can expect economic, fiscal, cultural, and political crises to escalate in the wake of Covid, and the tension between the technocratic and the humanistic forces to reach a breaking point. The former see a time of upheaval as an opportune moment to force a large-scale “reset” to a system currently flawed in many ways. The latter rejects revolutionary redesign as a counter to human nature – which craves, as Peter Drucker put it, a balance between “change and continuity.” Which is the best way forward, and how can we ensure that it prevails?

Events Calendar

Replay Past Events 

Friday Fireside Chat with Peter Cappelli

Friday Fireside Chat with Jennifer Moss

Evolution of Innovation Podcast with Shaun Mader

Friday Fireside Chat with Ray Wang

October at Valize

We’re signing people up now for the first cohort of the LearningHub System for a Series called “Creating Customer Insight.” It’s a digestible, self-paced series of lessons about the essential practice of understanding what jobs customers need to get done, and how you fit into their world. We’re looking to launch the program in December and the first cohort will have the online materials, of course, but also office hours with me live online so that we can work together to make it the best experience we can.

For more information, see the course page

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