Why we need to start before we finish

There’s something interesting entrepreneurs and technologists can take from rock bands. When playing live of stage and someone in the band makes a mistake, they don’t stop, they just keep on playing. When rehearsing, it’s important to play the song right through to the end, regardless of mistakes. The only way to practice, is to do it as if you’re on stage. The only way to get good on stage, is to have the courage to get on it before you are ready. The only way to get good on stage is to improve on stage, not in the backyard, rehearsal room or garage. Successful bands take gigs where no one might show up and they all start with exactly zero fans. In other words, we need to start before we are finished. We finish the work live, in market. In fact, the work never finishes, but it only really starts when once we have shipped a product.

The band Guns n Roses has a great story about their most famous song Sweet Child o’ Mine. They had the riff and the first part of the song down, it was sounding good and then they got to a part of the song for which there was no other music written, and no lyrics either. The it happened – Axle started singing:

‘Where do we go – Where do we go…. Oh, Where do we go now?’

He was literally talking to the band, saying geez, what’s next for this song. And through the process of doing, and making and asking, the solution was inside the question itself. That moment became the bridge, the missing part of the song. It worked with the other lyrics without him realizing it at first and lead its way nicely into what I think is the best guitar solo of all time. But of course, unless they started playing it before it was complete, it might never have been finished.

The startups we found, the technology we invent, and our own futures are a lot like that. Searching for perfection instead of progress is what stops us most. Some times all we really need to do is start, and believe that we’ll find the path of ‘where we go next’ once we start moving.

If you’re wondering where to go next, come join me in Melbourne on June 20th for my book launch of  ‘The Lessons School Forgot’. l’ll be doing a talk on the future, and answer all the questions you might have. It’s going to be a great night.

Click here to reserve your Free seat. 

See you then, Steve. 

The Language of Innovation

In my adult life, I’ve learned to speak two foreign languages. During my studies I came to the conclusion that it is very difficult to truly understand a culture, until you can speak its language(s). There are nuances and belief systems locked inside the words of a culture. The way a culture’s words are put together, how these words translate into actions, what its people believe and even the way they move are locked inside language. This is one of the reasons you can’t just translate phrases, or even some words directly. They need a cultural context to allow true meaning and required action to be drawn from them. It’s a process which has lots of layers, which when understood properly uncovers why different cultures believe different things, have different values, behave in unique ways and mostly go about things in a way which is, well foreign. Language and culture mirror each other.

Learning how to change, innovate and survive under a new technological regime is a lot like learning a new language.

For more than 10 years I’ve been out in the market learning and speaking our new business language, that of the accelerating technology economy.  Espousing that the era of stability is over and that there is a bunch of new tools and methods which not only circumvent industrial strategies, but are part of a permanent cultural shift in business. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

There are 3 clear stages that are recognisable parts to a successful transition.

Noticing the new language – We hear a bunch of words which are different. What seem like mere sounds and accents just washing over us gradually become more familiar. We see a smaller cohort speaking this new language in more and more places until we notice that it isn’t just different, but something different is happening around and to the people who speak this language. It is generating attention from outsiders and the language seems to have some advantages. Advantages that only those who speak it seem to understand and have access to. The initial recognition of this difference is first part of any change process. We must not only admit that we don’t understand it and that it’s not going to go away. But we must also be curious enough not to ignore it, but to dig deeper into it.

Understand the meaning – Next we must try and learn the new language. We have to study it, observe and listen, then try to speak it. We must learn the meaning inside the words – the foreign ‘culture’ it represents. This part isn’t just a translation process, it’s more about experimenting with the words until it becomes a physical response. A key part of this process is watching the body language and verbal language interact. Once we really understand the language, we understand its context and what makes it work. Understanding a language just little can bring about many positive changes and new actions. But it is a game of frequency and practice. To know it, we can’t just study it. We have to use it in non-classroom environments, in real life where mistakes can happen. We must converse with others who only speak that language. If we only practice with others who speak our mother tongue as well, we won’t really learn – we’ll always revert to what is more comfortable. Actions don’t just speak louder than words – they are the purpose of them.

Living the language – This is where most struggle.  At this point, we understand it well enough. We know enough to communicate and get inside the culture. But here we face a choice on whether we want to adopt it. To use it. To become at one with the language. Unless we decide to live the language, it will never be an automatic reaction and allow us to interact in its world without thinking. This is the chasm most never cross, because here’s where it goes beyond learning and becomes more about changing.

If you go back and read through the 3 steps again and think about disruptive technology or business innovation, you’ll see they are the same thing. The reasons most large companies, and people with established stable career skills struggle to adapt to innovations is because they are not prepared to live it. Mostly they want to learn a few words, be able to order a sandwich and introduce themselves, but mostly they’d prefer to just speak and act the way they always have. It’s usually window dressing. They don’t truly believe in it and they want to maintain their current culture. We’ll never truly innovate speaking an outdated language, or more precisely, living in an outmoded culture. We must immerse fully and leave the past behind.

For a company, and even a country, we’ll only ever be future-proof once we are so immersed in the language of innovation that we develop our own slang, dialect and accent with it. This is not easy. It’s a radical and permanent shift. Ask anyone who moved to a new land and had to learn to speak all over again.

Just remember this, if you don’t like change – you’re really going to hate irrelevance.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

Why the ecosystem is more important than market share

tomato

The caterpillar hidden in a tomato from my garden is great news for me as the gardener. While it’s one less tomato to eat, the presence of this little creature is enhancing the ecosystem I’m trying to build. I’ll put that tomato back into the ground. There’ll be more bugs, and butterflies which will make my soil more fertile. In turn they’ll help pollenate the flowers for next season, and they’ll be more tomatoes and resulting nutrition than their was last season.

While it is true that the bugs and competitors reduce my yield now, they increase it later by helping me create more of what I’m trying to grow. The systems approach takes longer, but usually creates more for all participants. This is why market share is never as important as growth. Market share is a me versus you, reductionist measure – it’s very yesteryear. The thing I’m trying to grow is the system. In a world of increasing abundance I want to participate in creating something which means more for everyone. I have little desire to dominate what is already here.

Sammartron snap

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Innovating too early is the same as being wrong

The EV2 Electric car

I’ve had a few startups where I was a bit early. I’d put my former startup rentoid in this category – not to mention the amazing potential pivots I missed. When someone is early to an emerging market we often say these simple words.

“He had the right idea, he was just a bit early.”

Here’s the truth. Early is the same as wrong. I know it sounds mean, but we have to be honest with ourselves. If the idea is not at the right time, then put simply it is the wrong idea. But I will admit there are complexities with being early, and it leads me to these thoughts.

  1. I’d rather be wrong by being early, than wrong with a dumb idea.
  2. There’s always a good chance of being early with something new.

Number 2 points to the importance of keeping costs low. A low cost operation has more time to learn and iterate. They have a better chance of getting closer to todays needs, and or the market catching up to their initial vision.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Ignore what the teacher told you, and just make things up

old school

Watch a 5 year old kid play for half a day and you’ll see levels of creativity that’ll blow your mind. You’ll wonder in awe where their natural ability to ‘make things up’ comes from. You’ll be inspired by how they see the world and what it makes them think and do.

We used to see the world that way too.  But what happened was for the first 18 years of our lives we got told how to see the world. In fact, the concept of making things up brings back some very strong and personal memories for me. I can remember when I reached High School (Grade 7-12 in Australia) and that it was no longer Ok to make things up. We had to reference where we got our ideas from. All of a sudden my opinion didn’t matter. What started to matter was researching someone else’s opinion, someone who had been ordained by industrialised society and had been published. It felt so weird. Why couldn’t I just write what I think? Why did it have to be a quotation from someone else? Why did what they think matter more than what I think? We all got taught  got taught stop thinking and start rehearsing. Rehearsing for what you may ask?

Rehearsing the lines for some kind of monetary industrial pantomime.

We were getting taught how to play inside the the modern economy.  An elongated economic play in which we would become ‘extras’ in someone else’s dreamscape. Someone else had the starring role, but they needed all sorts of support so they could be the stars of the show. And we went along with it. But now the exact opposite of what we got told, is where all the value is being created.

The trick they pulled on us to not have any original ideas, to not create anything new, to keep our opinion to ourselves is rapidly becoming redundant. And this gets me excited. We all still have the ability to just ‘make things up’. Now that we have access to the tools to create anything, now that the economy is being totally redesigned, we just need to forget what we got told, and start to write some of our own lines.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

Future Lab – Q & A

Future Lab

I was recently asked by the super clever Future Lab team of LS:N Global to do an interview on a few topics including: The New Australian Consumer, Crowd Finishing or Pre- Hacking (a theme in my book) The Sharing Economy (A former startup I had rentoid.com was early in this space), Reverse Retail, and Innovation via Skunk Works.

While writing up some thoughts in my note pad, I thought it would make a good blog entry. And then I wrote ‘blog this’ on the first page of my notes. And that is exactly what I have done – literally. It will take some interpretation (hand writing, typos, order) as it is just a mind stream of half sentences, but often the unfinished nature of things is what makes them valuable.

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 New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

When innovation is not really innovation

Innovation is an interesting word which gets thrown around lot in organisations. No one seems to disagree that it is the life blood of long term organisational survival, but I think it’s clear that the definition of what it actually is happens to be wrong. The definition tends to be most wrong in large stable industrial companies. I should know, once upon a time I was the ‘head of innovation’ in one such large organisation. I was recently pointed to this article which goes a fair way to demystifying innovation, versus novelty and invention. But for me it doesn’t go far enough. I think the problem with innovation in many large companies is this:

They confuse Asset Utilisation with Innovation.

A colleague of mine works in a large industrial concern heading up the product innovation area. Here’s a bunch of constraints they’ve placed upon him:

– All innovations must be able to manufactured in their existing factory.

– All innovations must use the existing machines in the existing factories.

– All innovations must focus on the existing core users of the brand.

– All innovations need to be able sold in the existing sales channels and retailers.

– All innovations should have a price point in and around the existing price points their range of products are already sold for.

– All innovations have exactly 13 weeks to prove themselves in market, because that’s what the reseller demands.

Clearly constraints like this prove that the core task is not at all about innovation and much more about business management within a set set of structured parameters. In simple terms it’s an asset utilisation program. There’s nothing wrong with asset utilisation. It’s a valid, profit centric, strategic imperative. It’s what companies must and should do to reach their financial potential. What’s foolish though, is confusing it with innovation. Such confusion can only lead to a long term displacement of brand relevance.

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