INNOVATION & PRODUCTIVITY:

Are You Getting Your Piece of the Pie?

We have a productivity problem…a big one. According to a study recently published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, since 2001 there has been a fundamental shift in the way the benefits of innovation are moving through the global economy. In the past, it was routine for the benefits of innovation, in both technology and services, to percolate through entire supply chains, but that’s changed.

Per the OECD study, the benefits of innovation, globalization and automation are increasingly flowing to technology giants. These multi-national players, the top 5% of all companies, drive growth through their ability to exploit global markets, leverage multi-billion dollar R&D budgets, and implement sweeping strategies for automation. We’ve all experienced first-hand the upside of these mega-cap companies as we access e-commerce, communicate (perhaps too) freely, and leverage the power of new communities. That’s great for the “Haves” (think Amazon and Apple), but it carries a shocking challenge for the other 95%, the “Have Nots”.

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For that other 95%, who lack global scale and can’t fund large, long-term investments, things are getting scary. It’s one thing to co-exist in a stable industry in a flat market, with the same old competitors you’ve always had. It’s another thing to have a digitally-enabled competitor riding a completely different innovation and productivity curve concern show up in your market and up-end the relationships you’ve carefully built with your customers and suppliers.

For the vast majority of companies who are newly christened “Have-Nots”, it’s critical to focus on specific, targeted markets where their relative strength can be brought to bear. Research shows that companies that are successful in this segment are a blend of high-performing teams and insightful, challenging leadership. In many cases, these companies have used their dynamic cultures to make innovation a routine part of the way that leaders behave, teams work, and the business runs.

For many organizations this is a radical change to the way they do business, and in most cases they’re not sure where to begin. Team dynamics and leadership behaviors are seen as unquantifiable soft-skills, and organizations are often locked into legacy functional structures that impede collaboration. At some point, though, almost every company needs to take a deep breath and consider a radical new approach to their business opportunity.

With that in mind, here are three easy steps to help the other 95% assess their level of risk when it comes to innovation and digitally-enabled competitors.

BARRIERS TO ENTRY – Is your industry, and specifically your company, protected by high barriers to entry? Things like huge capital investments, if carefully deployed, can protect you from the ravages of newly empowered competitors. Be brutally honest on this one…remember Yellow Cab? They had a virtual monopoly on the taxi business in NYC, until Uber and Lyft came along, and now they are relying on legislation that would cap ride-hailing firms in the city. In reality, most barriers to entry are of questionable value.

UPDATED VISION – Have you challenged your corporate Vision within the past two years? If you haven’t gone off-site and challenged your core assumptions about your value to your customers and suppliers, you are probably a sitting duck. If you can’t point to a new app, a new IT or capital investment that people are actually enthusiastic about, there’s a good chance that an upstart is targeting you and your legacy market right now. If the conversations at your off-site don’t get at least a bit ugly, you haven’t pushed hard enough.

MARGIN PRESSURE – When is the last time you scrubbed your cost structure to improve profitability and free up cash for investment? If you aren’t doing this at least twice a year, you are spending too much to provide the services you cherish. The greatest risk around a services business is falling prey to the conventional wisdom that “our customers won’t settle for less”. Instead of asking “what can we stop doing”, try asking “how can we change or service model to create more value, while reducing our costs”.

Sound tough? Maybe later? WHY BOTHER?

Your competition is doing it right now.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 11 "Agree on a Vision"

Welcome to "One Minute! One Idea!" – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it, known as Leadership.

Today’s idea is “Agree on a Vision!”

If you’re heading out to a new destination and you’re like most people, you whip out your trusty smart-phone and fire up the map app. What’s the first thing it asks? WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO! We accept this as a normal and necessary precursor to our trip, but all too often we’re willing to skip the step of defining our destination in our daily lives. Goals for our careers, companies, and personal relationships? We tend to avoid them because of our mistaken beliefs that goal-setting requires a crystal-ball or that the future will be a repeat of the past.

In episode 10, I introduced our case study for this season – the decision my wife Rebecca and I made to follow our hearts and return to our roots in rural America. We went looking for land in western Loudoun County Virginia, but what we found was a farm, complete with a log cabin – not some manufactured log house, but a real, hand-hewn log cabin, circa 1785. We looked at the cabin, looked at each other, and said: “This is it”. Our shared vision? To invest in our future by returning to our roots.

More in episode 12.

- Dennis 

Playing It Safe in the Peloton?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to ride in the Tour de France?

Professor Bert Blocken, who teaches Civil Engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands is the guy who can tell you. Over the past two years, Professor Blocken and his team have run the numbers and developed a model that details exactly what it’s like. And while the temptation is to say “it’s just like NASCAR” in that drafting closely behind another competitor benefits both you and the competitor, there’s a better comparison.

Riding in the Tour de France is exactly like working in most organizations that are struggling to change in the face of potential disruption, globalization, and advancing technology.

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How so? In both cases, the role of the leader (of the Peloton or the company) is expected to set the direction, speed, and most importantly to accept most of the resistance (aerodynamic or organizational) for the larger group. In both cases, “go along to get along” behaviors are rewarded with a powerful aerodynamic effect sweeping the group forward. And finally, in both cases, those participants who abdicate leadership positions save on energy expended at the expense of playing an active role in where the group is going and how fast it will get there.

Dr. Blocken’s work was recently published in the Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics and profiled in the Wall Street Journal. And while the conclusion that leading is tough is ont nnew and conserving energy by burrowing yourself in the pack is a core part of a strategy, the extent to which this is true is eye-opening.

Per the ground-breaking research, the leader of the Peloton encounters between 75% and 100% of the wind resistance that he would experience if riding alone. In other words, the pack doesn’t benefit the lead rider. For riders further back along the edge or in the Peloton itself, the aero drag drops off quickly, falling as low as 5% for riders near the rear. In other words, riders who choose that subordinate position experience reductions of up to 95% of their aero drag.

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That’s fine for the Tour, where coasting in the back is typically part of an overall race plan that includes carefully timed sprints to pass or finish strong. It’s another thing when it’s a habitual stance within an organization that desperately needs to change. Behavioral experts frequently cite these disincentives to change, that make it easier to coast on the same, well-worn path, when they discuss an organization’s “immunity to change”.

So, how to overcome this resistance, both passive and active? There are three key steps, that work for leaders and encompass the reality of Dr. Blocken’s research.

First, realize that while it’s often lonely at the top, leadership isn’t a solitary affair. Leadership done right is personal, so it’s critical to involve multiple levels of leadership, including front-line management, in change initiatives from day one.

Second, while the leader needs to know the direction the pack should go, the real power in human organizations originates in broad, grass-roots engagement. No cyclist leads the Tour the entire way. If the broader workforce has a say in the direction of the group, it’s much more likely they’ll get on board and fully engage in driving the organization where it needs to go.

Third, if you’re in the pack, recognize the “go along to get along” reality for what it is: inertia. If you’re unhappy with the current direction or speed, it’s up to you to make your voice and ideas heard. Odds are that your unique perspective will help the pack get where it needs to go.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 10 "Follow Your Heart and Embrace the Inevitable"

Welcome to "One Minute! One Idea!" – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it, known as Leadership.

Today’s idea is a double-header - ” Follow Your Heart and Embrace the Inevitable”.

We’re often told to “embrace our passions” – but that always sounds to me like the first part of an If-Then Statement – “IF you embrace your passions, THEN things (the universe, your opportunities, your student debt) will somehow align around that and make things easier. In my experience, that’s not how it works, and here’s why.

Passion, by definition, is a “strong emotion”. Strong emotions, come and go, but the things we really love, the commitments we feel in our hearts, now THEY go on.  Did I just say “The Heart Will Go On?” I guess I did.

But that’s only part of it…by Following Your Heart you’ll set yourself up for the consequences…many of them will be good, but some won’t and when those challenges inevitably come, that’s the struggle you’ll need to embrace.

So here’s a teaser on the Season 2 case study. After years of living in the suburbs of major cities, my wife and I decided it was time to Follow our hearts, embrace the inevitable and return to our roots. What happened next? Tune in to episode 3 to find out.

- Dennis Out

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 9 "Get Real About Ideas"

Welcome to "One Minute! One Idea!" – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it, known as Leadership.

Today’s idea is to "Get Real About Ideas."

Let’s face it, most leaders aren’t waking up in the middle of the night wishing their organizations could produce more off-the-wall ideas – but they ARE waking up wishing that they could find a way to grow revenue, reduce costs, and keep from being disrupted. Well - that requires innovation, which can be thought of as a steady stream of ideas that we prioritize, fund, staff and otherwise act upon, all in service to growth.

With that in mind, the focus for Season 2 is to energize innovation by finding, developing and replicating ideas, and I’m going to bring it to life with a case study that, I guarantee, you have never heard. If you’re like me (and most people I know) you’re tired of hearing about trillion dollar unicorns, because how relevant are they to most of us anyway? So, no more Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. Instead, we’ll use a case study built around a turnaround that happened right here, in a place you would never expect.

So today’s idea is “ Get Real About Ideas”.

It’s what I’m doing.

Dennis Out.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 8 "Invite Someone Behind the Scenes!"

Welcome to Episode 8 of "One Minute One Idea!" – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it, known as Leadership.If you’ve made it this far, you know that One Minute, One Idea is all about dispensing with the filler, repetition, commercial breaks, and all things obvious, and what’s left is sixty seconds of dense, valuable content.

Today we’re going to change it up with an extended play idea to “Invite You Behind the Scenes”.

Why? For starters, it’s the end of Season One. We’ve covered some great topics of a general nature, but from this point forward, the structure is going to change slightly. We’ll continue to do individual "One Minute One Idea!" episodes, but those episodes will now be organized into seasons of eight episodes each, with each season focused on a central theme like Innovation and Ideas, Creating and Growing Customer Relationships, or Launching New Services. That structure will still encourage a tight focus on stand-out ideas, but it will also allow us to more fully develop and link individual concepts. Each season will end with an “extended play” episode like this, which will run for two or three minutes. From your perspective, that means you can literally “take a minute” to refresh on one topic or binge-watch an entire season in 10 minutes. Netflix meets Facebook Live meets the Harvard Business Review. Quirky, I know.

Second, I would like to explain what’s happening here at the intersection of branding, neuroscience and human learning. I know that everybody gets that this micro-podcast is just supposed to fit into your day where ever you’ve got a minute; Waiting at a light, on the train, riding an elevator or sitting on the parking shuttle. You’ve also likely noticed that our production values are pretty good, but we’re not making “Game of Thrones” or some sanitized corporate training video here either. The intent is to have a densely packed sixty seconds that you can absorb any way you want, but if you’re looking at the screen during the podcast, here’s what you’ll see.

The screen is divided into three areas, with the core message presented in three distinct ways to reinforce the neuroscience of attention and to play to individual learning styles. First, a text version of the message jumps in and out at the bottom. Second, graphics that reinforce each episode’s key point will appear in this information panel to my right. Third, I’ll always be here, talking too fast and emoting too much, hammering home the same central point. Finally, we’re using green screen technology to break the podcast into three phases. The first is the workshop, which sends a pretty clear message we’re here to work. At the transition to this week’s idea, the background changes to a theme that reinforces the three information channels on the screen, and at the end, there’s one last transition to our business partners, who are some of the world’s leading speakers bureaus and the terrific people who work there.

So that’s your tour behind the scenes at "One Minute One Idea!" plus your cliff-hanger... Season 2 will build on a theme I introduce in Episode 4 – finding, developing, and replicating ideas. I guarantee that you’ll come out of Season 2 with at least five new ideas and a working knowledge of how to continue the magic.

So I encourage you yo "Invite Someone Behind the Scenes!”

It’s what I’m doing. 

Tweet me @DLBrouwer

- Dennis

If you would like to learn more about Deconstruction and how it can impact your organization, contact me at Dennis@DLBrouwer.com or check out www.DLBrouwer.com.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 7 "Create an Experience!"

Welcome to Episode 7 of One Minute! One Idea! – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it, known as Leadership.

Multi-media Micro-podcast from the Author of The Return On Leadership

Today’s Idea is “Create an Experience!”.

The brands such as Cleveland Clinic, Mercedes and Nordstroms are (just a few brands) known for delivering a customer experience that’s more than “service”. What’s the difference? Think of the last time you took your car in for an oil change. When it was all over, the car got serviced, and you got an experience – good, bad, or ugly. The quality of that experience is what drives your decision to become either a loyal return customer or a one-and-done transaction.

So, today’s idea is “Create an Experience!”. The next time you think that your new offering is ready for prime time, contact a top customer and ask for their opinion on what you’re about to do. Explain the offering and value proposition, how you intend to introduce it and what’s required of them. They’ll let you know whether your new offering goes beyond “service” to become a new, valuable experience that they’ll want to repeat again and again.

Create an Experience! It’s what I’m doing.

Tweet me @DLBrouwer

- Dennis

If you would like to learn more about Deconstruction and how it can impact your organization, contact me at Dennis@DLBrouwer.com or check out www.DLBrouwer.com.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 6 "Compete!"

Welcome to Episode 6 of One Minute! One Idea!  – where we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it - known as Leadership.

Multi-media Micro-podcast from the Author of The Return On Leadership

Today’s Idea is “Get Out There and Compete!”.

So much of the coaching and advice we receive is about our inner game – finding balance, your inner child, your true self, and those are healthy things to do. However, as organizations, we also tend to become absorbed in our own drama. That's fine, but at some point we’ve got to remember that every organization is in a competition with someone else, and the way that competition turns out usually comes down to, well, you, especially if you’re in a leadership role. If you’re not engaged directly with the market, it’s an invitation for the competition to eat your lunch.

So, today’s idea is “Get Out There and Compete”. There’s nothing that matches the thrill of seeing a customer in the wild, so go call on a customer. Offer your assistance to someone in sales. Put together an offer that your competition hates…but if you were a customer, that offer would make you say, “Whoa, seriously?!?!”.

Get Out There and Compete. It’s what I’m doing.

Tweet me @DLBrouwer

- Dennis

If you would like to learn more about Deconstruction and how it can impact your organization, contact me at Dennis@DLBrouwer.com or check out www.DLBrouwer.com.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 5 "Seed, Search, Sell"

Welcome to Episode 5 of One Minute One Idea!  the multi-media micro podcast in which we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it - Leadership.


Today’s Idea is “Seed, Search, Sell!”.

Since the dawn of time, selling has been about outreach, often in the form of “hunters” who are cold-calling or “dialing for dollars”. Search engines have flipped that model on its head, placing the power in the hand of the buyer, not the seller. Cold-calling relies on contacting a potential buyer at the very moment they are interested in exploring what you’re selling, and that’s got about the same chance of success as hitting a bullet with a bullet.

So, today’s idea is “Seed, Search, Sell”. Start not by dialing or emailing but by seeding the internet with your high-quality, carefully crafted, valuable content. When someone’s interested in the type of stuff you’re doing, they’ll search for it. When they encounter your content, and make the judgment that you’re credible, they will invite you to sell to them, and then it’s game on.

Seed, Search and Sell. It’s what I’m doing.

Tweet me @DLBrouwer

- Dennis

If you would like to learn more about Deconstruction and how it can impact your organization, contact me at Dennis@DLBrouwer.com or check out www.DLBrouwer.com.

One Minute! One Idea! Ep. 4 "Adopt an Idea!"

Welcome to Episode 4 of One Minute! One Idea!  – the multi-media micro-podcast in which we Deconstruct what’s happening at the intersection of innovation, human potential and the things we do to unlock it -Leadership.

Today’s Idea is “Adopt an Idea!”

Multi-Media Micro-Podcast from the Author fo The Return on Leadership

We tend to think of ideas as rare, exotic things, but in the real world, ideas are like children, smart investors and the family dog – they tend to go where they’re treated best.

This week's idea is “Adopt an Idea”. You want a new dog, you can buy the champion of the NY State Dog Show, or visit your favorite pet shop. Or you can do the socially acceptable thing. Go to the local animal rescue and find an abandoned pup that’s ready for adoption. The same thing goes for ideas. You can hire consultants and drag everyone off-site for a day or two, or simply adopt the neglected idea in your own backyard. Find it, feed it, and get it out of the weather. Give it a safe home, and pat it on the head once in a while. Who knows what will happen?

Adopt an Idea! It’s what I’m doing.

Tweet me @DLBrouwer

- Dennis