Lean Innovation: How to Become an Effective Innovator [UPDATED]

Yesterday, I gave a talk on Lean Innovation at the very first Edmunds Tech Conference. Before I started my talk, I played this Louis C.K. video:

Very funny, but it also set the tone for my talk. We do take innovation for granted. We do so because our expectations are continuously resetting and normalizing that unless we start teleporting people tomorrow, no one is impressed.

My talk defines innovation by stating what it is and what it is not, and how lean innovation is different. At my job at Edmunds, I took on two projects with highly uncertain business values: the open APIs and Facebook Timeline integration. Through the process of implementing both, I learned a lot about bringing highly uncertain products to customers and making them work. I felt I needed to share that with my colleagues and now with you.

Most importantly, I truly believe that if you cannot recognize innovation you can never create innovation. 

Innovation has four cornerstones:

  1. Creativity: vision and ideas are impetus of innovation.
  2. Execution: acting on those ideas is the realization of innovation.
  3. Business Value: what separates innovation from invention is how the value proposition that consumers adopt.
  4. Evolution: innovation is iterative. If you’re not iterating, you’re not innovating.

What makes innovation lean is the high uncertainty surrounding the business value of the innovation. When you think you know what people want but you don’t really know. That’s when you have to innovate the lean way.

Effective innovators are:

  1. Dreamers: You gotta dream and dream big. Tune out the naysayers and the eye-rollers. Dare to see things differently and believe in your vision.
  2. Fighters: Armchair and fair-weather innovators are what gives innovation a bad rap. You need to fight for your vision.
  3. Doers: You can dream all you want but if you don’t do something about it, you’re not innovating.

Here’s how to ensure your lean innovation is effective:

  1. Set Daily Outcomes: when you’re innovating, time is not on your side. You need to test your hypotheses and validate them quickly. You can’t think in weeks or months. You need to think in hours and days. Set a daily outcome that you have to deliver on. You’ll be more productive, much happier as a person, and well .. more innovative!
  2. Know Your Tools: You cannot innovate without knowing how to build, test, deploy, market and measure your innovation!
  3. Measure Everything: Since you’re dealing with high uncertainty, you need to measure everything you can possibly measure. Otherwise, your results might be skewed (invalidating a valid guess or validating and invalid guess) and in turn your product won’t be successful.
  4. Find Your Allies: Like anything else, you cannot do anything worthwhile alone. Find people you trust to collaborate with you.
  5. Do It: If you don’t do it, it doesn’t matter. Doing can take on various forms. You can code or put together a team that does. Whatever it is, you need to do by being involved and ensuring that the project is moving forward.
  6. Sell It: Storytelling can make or break any innovation. If you can’t tell an engaging, compelling story of why this innovation makes sense, you failed.

You can see the entire talk in these four video installments:

I’d love to get a conversation going about Lean Innovation within companies. Feel free to post a comment below of tweet me at @ielshareef. Looking forward to it!

UPDATE (June 20, 2012): You can now watch my Lean Innovation talk here.

Five Things Jean Paul Gaultier Can Teach Innovators

A week ago, I was in San Francisco visiting friends. We had the most perfect San Francisco summer day that Saturday: gray, cool and windy. It was a great day for culture, so we decided to go see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (on through August 19th) at the de Young. I saw the same exhibit last year in Montréal where it started. It blew me away then, and it inspired me this time around.

Now, I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, find art and fashion to be incredible storytelling mediums, beyond anything technology could offer. I thought Gaultier’s exhibit was so creative, so inventive, so beyond inquisitive that it exemplified innovation for me. Jean Paul Gaultier’s strong point of view and storytelling capabilities are something from which one should learn as much as one envies.

Bending and blurring the line between the masculine and feminine is a big theme in Gaultier’s collection. He brings diverse cultural aesthetics into his haut couture and prêt-à-porter collections. All the while, telling the story of modern masculinity and its evolution in our society.

The exhibit is rife with inspiration. As a technologist, I was especially inspired by the following:

  1. Have a Strong Point of View: There’s no time for mediocrity of thought. Take a stand and pursue it. Not everyone’s going to like it, but so be it. You don’t want to be on your deathbed lamenting the fact of being boring.
  2. Embrace the Fringe: Just because something isn’t popular, doesn’t mean it’s not useful or valuable. Innovators see value in the most mundane, ordinary, and sometime, outcast elements. Keep your eyes open for the extraordinary in ordinary things.
  3. Tell a Story: Storytelling is what makes people connect with you. Whether you’re building a clothing line, software, company or a country, it’s the story you tell that captures people’s imagination. Not what you’re building.
  4. Be Yourself: You’re most effective and authentic when you’re being yourself. Hiding any aspect of who you are will directly or indirectly hinder your chances of success.
  5. Have Fun: Enjoy the process because there are no guarantees in life. Be passionate, care deeply and enjoy the ride!

I believe technologists could benefit immensely by stepping outside the bubble of tech to draw inspiration from other disciplines.  There’s so much to learn from theater, art, fashion, music, martial arts, sports, …etc. The most effective innovator in our lifetime, Steve Jobs, drew much of his inspiration and innovation from calligraphy and type theory.

The world around us offers much mental stimulation. Are we tapping into it?

Tom Bihn Ristretta: The Perfect Bag for Your Mac

A few months back, I wrote about my travel machine, the Macbook Air 11″. The bag I used to carry it around back then was a freebie that I got at QCon a few years back. Needless to say, it was cheaply made and it started to disintegrate. Quickly.

image

I started looking for a new bag after seeing a nasty tear on the side the bag (I threw it out before taking a picture. Sorry.) During my search, I stumbled upon the Tom Bihn Ristretta for the Macbook Air 11″. After comparing it to other alternatives, I decided to buy it.

And boy am I glad I did![[MORE]]

The Ristretta is light, compact, has plenty of room for someone on the go, elegant, sturdy, and best of all, it’s “Made in USA!” If you love your MBA as much as I do, you’ll treat it to something awesome like Tom Bihn’s slick bag. image image

I currently have the following items in my bag:

  1. MBA 11″
  2. MBA charger with long extension
  3. Kindle 3
  4. Magic Mouse
  5. iPhone charger
  6. iPhone
  7. Three pens
  8. Headphones
  9. Eye mask (when traveling)
  10. Ear plugs (when traveling)
  11. A New Yorker magazine
  12. Business Cards
  13. Keys
  14. Passport bag (when traveling)

This is the perfect computer travel bag I’ve had to date. I have a feeling you’ll love it too.

Caught My Attention: The long goodbye, developing an iphone app, how to be a mentor, anatomy of an idea and fbootstrapp

  1. The Long Goodbye – An end-of-life account that’s both heartbreaking and funny in equal measure.
  2. My Experience Developing an iPhone App – A blueprint of how to think about and implement an iPhone application from a product perspective. Disclosure: I’ve worked with Howard Ogawa at Edmunds.com
  3. How to be a great mentor (and a mentee)  (TheNextWeb) – A quick read with tips on how to mentor professionals and how to accept mentoring by subject matter experts.
  4. Anatomy of an Idea – Steven Johnson wrote one of the few business books that really changed how I think about innovation. In this blog post, he tells us how he works and researches. Great read.
  5. fbootstrapp (github) – HTML, CSS, and JS toolkit for facebook apps. Fbootstrapp is a toolkit for kickstarting the development of facebook iframe apps.

Caught My Attention: API craft group, the future of classics, the culture of innovation, SOPA and code racer

  1. API Craft (Google Group) – Started by Apigee to provide a place for API developers and architects to talk shop with peers and to learn more about best practices. Great resource for anyone interested in APIs.
  2. Do The Classics Have a Future? – What is truly amazing is what we have, not what we don’t have from the ancient world. If you didn’t already know, and someone were to say that material written by people who lived two millennia ago or more still survived in such quantities that most people wouldn’t be able to get through it in a lifetime—you wouldn’t believe them. It’s astonishing. But it’s the case; and it offers the possibility of a most wondrous shared voyage of exploration.
  3. Is It a Fools Errand to Try to Create a Culture of Innovation? – A culture is its people. Innovation starts with the people in charge. If they don’t really embrace it and lead it themselves, they aren’t really for it, no matter how hard they try.
  4. On the Problem of Money, Politics, and SOPA – An interesting take on SOPA and the role of Hollywood money in starting it and giving it life.
  5. Code Racer – A game that tests your CSS/HTML skills. Pretty awesome!

Caught My Attention: The effect of collaboration on creativity, dynamic face substitution, innovation at YouTube, new incredible camera and Facebook mining our political sentiments

  1. The Rise of the New Groupthink (NY Times) – Can Design Thinking be actually bad for innovation? Most people are are most creative when alone and uninterrupted, so how will creativity fare in the new norm of team brainstorming and collaborative workplace?
  2. Dynamic Face Substitution – Whoa! Now that’s some awesome but real creepy technology that uses face tracker and color interpolation.
  3. Streaming Dreams (New Yorker) – A fascinating look at innovation at YouTube and how that company will reinvent TV. A must-read for all innovators and business executives out there.
  4. New Camera from WVIL (YouTube) – Debuted at CES 2011, this incredible camera will change photography as we know it.
  5. Facebook Gives Politico Deep Access to User’s Political Sentiments (All Things D) – All your updates, public and private, that mention a political candidate are shared with Facebook exclusive “partners.” That the price we pay for “free” service.

APIs: A Strategy Guide by Daniel Jacobson, Greg Brail and Dan Woods

Learn to Speak API for The Sake of Your Business

You should read this book if you are remotely interested in the following:

1. Why your company needs to have an API

2. How to design, secure and manage the API

3. What API strategies your company should adopt, including legal and operational considerations

4. How to measure the success of the API

5. How to drive API engagement

The authors have years of experience in the API space and I think they did a pretty good job distilling their collective wisdom and learned best practices in this “short and sweet” booklet (134-pages!) I think it is important for the success of any API initiative that *all* stakeholders read this book to get on the same page of what needs to take place to ensure the success of the initiative. It’s hard to argue with the “tried and true” practices of which this book is rife.

If you’re interested in getting into the nitty gritty technical details of how to build an API, I highly recommend RESTful Web Services Cookbook: Solutions for Improving Scalability and Simplicity as a technical companion read to this book. Read this book first, and then delve into the technical details with Subbu’s book. Full Review