Sunday, 30 August 2009

Innovating in the Global Recession

A number of clients are asking us to help them to innovate out of the this crisis. Whilst every organisation is different, here are The Innovation Beehive's top line tips for innovating in the global recession:

1) It all starts with the customer - go back and triple your efforts on building consumer insight. What do they need now? What processes do you have in place that are getting in the way?

2) Add a value offering to your portfolio. Over the last five years we have heard clients say that consumers will be prepared to pay a little more for premium. Those days are gone. Ask how you can still give your consumer access to your product or service and consider introducing a value range. KFC UK are a great example of this with the Street Wise 99p snack menu and £1.99 Snack Box. Burger King is running to catch up.

3) Get Skinny. When Steve Jobs went back to Apple he was ruthless at culling the amount of projects being worked on. Review your innovation portfolio and cut those projects that are least promising.

4) Get into bed with someone. Necessity is the mother of invention so look around your industry and search for an innovation partner. Talk to your suppliers and get them involved in your business.

5) Think Home Grown. If done successfully, staff suggestion schemes are a great way of coming up with new ideas. Think about "I'm Running Sainsburys" (and see our previous blog). They can be a great motivator for staff and a fantastic source of free new ideas.

6) Flex your People. KPMG has creatively used the slack the recession has provided in the diary of Senior Management. They now act as project sponsors and innovation mentors. If your execs aren't as busy as they used to be, put them to work on driving sponsoring and driving innovation.

7) Go Open Source. Look outside the walls of your business for ideas and new relationships. This is low cost and low risk. P&G used to be known as "the Kremlin on the river" and now are the world leaders in open source innovation. Check out to find out how they did it.

8) Stay Talent Focused. Review your current innovation capability against your market needs. Identify the gaps and use any slack in business to re-deploy your teams to projects to drive revenue and profit.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Graduates and BT

We were saddened to read this weekend that BT has suspended its Graduate Training Programme in light of the current economic climate. Fresh eyes and ambitious talent is a key to any organisation's future success and innovation strategy. We fear that they are being very short term in thinking. However, they are being creative in other areas - we read they are loaning out employees to other firms in a bid to avoid redundancies.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Storytelling for Leaders

A good leadership story has the power to engage hearts and minds. It has these six crucial elements:

  1. Draws on your real past and lessons you've learned from it.
  2. Resonates emotionally with your audience because it's relevant to them.
  3. Inspires your audience because it's fueled by your passion.
  4. Shows the struggle between your goal and the obstacles you faced in pursuing it.
  5. Illustrates with a vivid example.
  6. Teaches an important lesson
With thanks to HBR for the inspiration

Google and the business card

Is the business card dead? Google profile would like to think so:

Hiring People You Don't Agree With

For anyone who has put together a team. it is a real temptation to hire in your own image. This piece from Harvard Business Review online gives us great food for thought:

Hire People Who Disagree with You

Emma Sky is a British pacificist dedicated to getting the U.S. out of Iraq. In 2007 she also became a key aide to General Ray Ordierno, the operational commander of U.S. forces. "People always thought we were funny," she tells Thomas Ricks in his book, The Gamble, "this huge man (Ordierno is 6'5) and this tiny British woman who went everywhere with him." Sky represented a civilian sensibility and voiced oppositional views that she felt senior officers needed to hear. Ordierno once referred to Sky has "my insurgent."

Credit Ordierno, as Ricks does, for realizing that he needed someone who could be "his opposite" (Sky's words). In this instance, Ordierno was following the example of his boss, General David Petraeus, who surrounded himself with an assortment of military and civilian aides. This "brain trust," as Ricks calls it, would provide him with the different perspectives so vital to running a counter-insurgency operation.

Leaders who solicit opinions from people who disagree with them are smart enough to realize that they do not have all the answers. Such leaders also must make it safe for others to disagree; otherwise the exercise is moot. Here are some things to consider when hiring for difference.

Look for character. From a leadership position, character is the willingness to do what is right for the team. Every team needs people who will stand up for their ideas. That requires backbone. Integrity and virtue are also essential, but what matters is not what you are, it is what you do . Character is leadership put to good purpose.

Look for strength of ideas. It is not enough to disagree; executives need alternate viewpoints that are based on facts as well as reason. Good ideas that are contrary to the boss's ideas must be carefully thought-out, supported by data, and argued from a viewpoint of doing what is best for stakeholders.

Look for ambition. When bringing on someone who disagrees with you, or at least is not afraid to do so, make sure they have an ambition to move up in the organization. They aren't just contrarian; they want to make a positive difference, and they're in it for the long haul.

Look at their track record. I have yet to see a recruitment advertisement that says, "Wanted: People to Disagree with Boss." So look for managers who have shepherded projects to positive ends when the odds were against them. For example, if they achieved something in the face of new competition, diminished resources, or even organizational change, these are indicators of an ability to think and act for themselves.

Hiring someone who is opposed to your ideas is not the same as hiring someone who is opposed to you. The former is a good thing; the latter is a threat. The latter will disrupt the team in order to achieve his personal ambitions at your expense. Such a person will cause more grief than glory — so keep him on a short leash or ask him to find work elsewhere. In any organization, the designated leader must have the final say in strategic decisions, otherwise the organization loses focus and direction.

Having a strong oppositional voice is the mark of good leadership. Rather than a sign of weakness, it demonstrates force of character and the ability to think and act strategically. More importantly, oppositional views can clarify the leader's own thinking, sometimes changing his mind, other times sharpening a course of action.

And while ultimately, the leader still has to make the final call, encouraging others to voice opposing views enables the organization to be more adaptable and more agile — and will help you make better decisions as a leader.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Trainer's Development Network

We are delighted to be running a session at The Trainer's Development Network on 11th September. It's a great way for L&D professionals to gain CPD.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Building Leadership Capability for Change

From the CIPD podcast series, an interview with Gary Hamel

How to Innovate like Apple

We just love learning from the best, so when our friend Paul Deeprose at The Career Gym told us about this article, we wanted to share it with all of you!

How to Innovate Like Apple

by Chris Morrison

Apple makes it look easy. From the sleek design of its personal computers to the clever intuitiveness of its software to the ubiquity of the iPod to the genius of the iPhone, Apple consistently redefines each market it enters by creating brilliant gadgets that put the competition to shame. What’s the secret? Apple has built its management system so that it’s optimized to create distinctive products. That’s good news for would-be emulators, because it means Apple’s method for innovation can be understood as a specific set of management practices and organizational structures that — in theory, at least — anyone can use. This Crash Course outlines the techniques Apple uses to make the magic happen.
Things you will need:

* It may take several years to cultivate new skills and rebuild your product lineup.
* You’ll need funding to create a dedicated innovation team and sufficient capital to rethink your product lineup.
* Strategic clarity: Innovating effectively means creating your own opportunities in a crowded marketplace to avoid both mediocrity and commoditization.
* Patience: Creativity is a fickle thing, and it doesn’t always follow the clock. False starts and the occasional flop are part of the process and must be accommodated.
* Strong leadership: Innovation doesn’t happen by committee. Visionaries with effective management skills are hard to find, but they’re a critical ingredient for success.

Clear Your Mind

GOAL: Understand what it takes to create truly remarkable products.

The word “zen” is often applied to both Apple’s products and the company’s highly focused CEO, Steve Jobs. And while the compliment usually refers to the beauty of the company’s minimalist products, enlightenment is more than skin-deep. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains or the sofa,” Jobs has said of his product philosophy. “But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design.” Design is a “fundamental soul,” Jobs says, that expresses itself through an end result — the product.

What is Apple’s fundamental soul? The company’s motto, “Think Different,” provides a hint. Apple maintains an introspective, self-contained operating style that is capable of confounding competitors and shaking up entire industries. For example, Nokia, once considered the undisputed leader in mobile phones, never anticipated that a single product from a computer maker might throw its ascendancy into question.

Internally, Apple barely acknowledges competition. It’s the company’s ability to think differently about itself that keeps Apple at the head of the pack. Current and past employees tell stories about products that have undergone costly overhauls just to improve one simple detail. Other products are canceled entirely because they don’t fit in or don’t perform up to par.

Apple’s culture has codified a habit that is good for any company to have but is especially valuable for firms that make physical things: Stop, step back from your product, and take a closer look. Without worrying about how much work you’ve already put into it, is it really as good as it could be? Apple asks that question constantly.

Build Your Fortress

GOAL: Create the infrastructure you need to innovate.

From the outside, Apple’s offices look like those of just about any large modern American corporation. Having outgrown its headquarters campus at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, Calif., Apple now has employees in other buildings scattered across the town and around the world. Size and sprawl are formidable challenges that most companies manage gracelessly, either by splintering into disorganized, undisciplined communities or by locking employees into tight, stifling bureaucracies. Apple tends toward the latter, but it does so in a unique way that generally (but not always) plays to its advantage.

At its worst, Apple’s culture resembles the closed paranoia of North Korea. For example, one Apple source who agreed to be interviewed anonymously for this story backed out at the last minute. Why? He feared that his employer would examine his phone bill and find him out. Another spoke on background but mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit if he were quoted by name. These are common fears within Apple, and they really do keep the company’s employees quiet. The obsession with secrecy is a double-edged sword, however: It gives Apple a vital element of surprise in the marketplace, but the never-ending game of internal spy vs. spy is draining for rank-and-file employees. Indeed, the corporate culture came under scrutiny recently after an employee of a foreign supplier — reportedly under suspicion for leaking the prototype of a new iPhone — committed suicide in Shenzhen, China.

Beyond the secrecy, which affects everyone, Apple’s approach is hardly one-size-fits-all. Rank-and-file employees are often given clear-cut directives and close supervision. Proven talent gets a freer hand, regardless of job title.

Cultivate Your Elite

GOAL: Empower your most valuable employees to do amazing work.

In truly despotic societies, both art and science suffer terribly. Apple, on the other hand, reliably churns out the industrial equivalents of da Vinci paintings and Hokusai woodcuts. This has little to do with how the company treats employees in general. Rather, it stems from the meticulous care and feeding provided to a specific group: the creatives. Apple’s segmented, stratified organizational structure — which coddles its most valuable, productive employees — is one of the company’s most formidable assets.

One former Apple consultant tells of an eye-opening introduction to Apple’s first-class treatment of its creatives. The consultant visited Apple’s Industrial Design Group, the team that gives Apple products their distinctive, glossy look. Tucked away within Apple’s main campus, the IDG is a world unto itself. It’s also sealed behind unmarked, restricted-access doors. Within the IDG, employees operate free from outside distractions and interference. “It didn’t feel like working at Apple,” our source remembers. “It felt like working at a small design firm.” Some companies are famous for perks — Google, for example, with its free massages and gourmet lunches. Apple focuses on atmosphere, nurturing its best designers behind opaque glass in a hidden sanctuary with music playing in the background.

Despite their favored status, Apple’s creatives still have no more insight into the company’s overall operations than an Army private has into the Pentagon. At Apple, new products are often seen in their complete form by only a small group of top executives. This, too, works as a strength for Apple: Instead of a sprawling bureaucracy that new products have to be pushed through, Apple’s top echelon is a small, tightly knit group that has a hand in almost every important decision the company makes.

Don’t Rush, Don’t Dawdle

Goal: Prevent short-term, cyclical, or competitive pressures from overwhelming an effective strategy.

It’s often said that people in particular cultures live life at their own unique paces. Americans are seen as hard-driving and somewhat shortsighted — a side effect of a business culture that takes its cues from the stock market’s emphasis on quarterly results.

Apple is different because Apple dances to a rhythm of its own making. Although its rising stock has become a vital part of many portfolios, Apple cancels, releases, and updates products at its own speed, seemingly irrespective of market conditions or competitive pressure. Apple doesn’t telegraph its moves, either: The iPod and iPhone, iconic products both, each began as rumors that Apple seemed determined to quash.

Plan B

Staying Cool When the Heat Is On

Your stock price is down, your customers are angry, and investors are banging on your door. Sure, acting like Apple seems like a good idea — until your board starts craving blood. How do you maintain a focus on innovation when you don’t have a few successful quarters to back you up?

Clone Your Own Steve Jobs

GOAL: If you put a tyrannical perfectionist in charge, institutionalize his thinking.

New adherents to the cult of Steve Jobs may be surprised to hear this: The most iconic Apple laptop, the original PowerBook, was released in 1991, after Jobs had been absent for six years. The smug hipsters who line today’s cafes with rows of identical MacBooks are merely updated versions of their counterparts from the early ’90s. Yet Jobs was in no way responsible for this enduring innovation.

So does that mean Steve Jobs is irrelevant? Or is Jobs — and his maniacal focus on building insanely great products — a necessary ingredient of Apple’s success?

Historians have long grappled with a similar question: How critical are those rare, world-changing “great leaders” whose efforts seem irreplaceable? Most historians now believe that great leaders are made by their circumstances and that their great deeds actually reflect the participation of thousands, or even millions, of people. In the case of Apple, there would be no Mac, no iPod, and no iPhone without the efforts of thousands of engineers and vast numbers of consumers who were looking for products that better served their needs.

That said, Jobs cuts an impressive figure, and if he was “made” by his circumstances, that process took many years. Remember that the first edition of Steve Jobs — the young inventor who, at 21, created Apple Computer — was not the visionary we know today. Instead, after nine years at Apple’s helm, the young Steve Jobs was ousted because of his aggressive, take-no-prisoners personality, which created a poisonous, unproductive atmosphere when it pervaded the company.

Today’s Steve Jobs seems to have learned how to focus that aggressive, take-no-prisoners personality more shrewdly, and to great effect. While he’s still an essential part of Apple’s success, the company has also institutionalized many of Jobs’ values to such an extent that Apple is now far less dependent on him. Tim Cook, for example, worked well as acting CEO during the first half of this year, when Jobs was on sick leave. But questions remain. So long as the overwhelming personality of Jobs is present, can anyone really grow into that position? Only when Jobs steps back from his role permanently will we really be able to determine how well Apple has learned the lessons he has taught.


Over time, Apple has built a seasoned management team that’s optimized to support bold new product initiatives (and recover from the occasional flop). Here are a few of the techniques Apple’s management uses to make the magic happen.

1. Ignore fads. Apple has held off building a cheap miniature laptop to respond to the “netbook” fad, because these devices don’t offer good margins. Instead it released the ultrathin, ultra-expensive Air, a product more in line with its own style.

2. Don’t back down from fights you can win. Apple is a tough partner and a ruthless enemy. In 2007, Apple pulled NBC’s television programs from the iTunes Store after the network tried to double the prices consumers pay to download shows. NBC backed down within days, and ever since, giant media conglomerates have been hesitant to face off with Apple over pricing.

3. Flatten sprawling hierarchies. Companies with extended chains of authority tend to plod when it’s time to act. Most of the decisions at Apple come from Jobs and his immediate deputies.

4. Pay less attention to market research and competitors. Most firms develop their products through a combination of touchy-feely consumer focus groups and efforts to imitate successful products from other companies. Apple does neither, and the iPod and iPhone are clear proof of that.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

How to organise for Innovation - Cisco as a radical example

If you are thinking about how to structure for Innovation, have a look at what Cisco are doing

Executive Remuneration

For anyone wrestling with executive remuneration at the moment, in light of the recession and the back lash against the banks, this half hour programme from Radio Four will give you some great stimulus

Friday, 7 August 2009

John Timpson Upside Down Management

John Timpson is the CEO and Chief Executive of Timpson Shoe Repairs. He runs a very successful business where staff are empowered and service is key. He calls it 'Upside Down Managment'. Find out all about it in this Radio 4 In Business podcast

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Stealing Bears

Not about business or innovation, but we couldn't resist this. A bear has been convicted of stealing honey:

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Swapping shifts

We thought this was an interesting concept, but I am not sure I would like someone I don't know turning up saying they are working at The Innovation Beehive

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Some Tips for Creating an Innovative Employer Brand (EVP)

Lots of clients have been asking for help with Employer Branding, so we thought we would share with you The Innovation Beehive's Top Tips:


To begin to break down the silo mentality, don’t own this all in HR.
Build a working party that includes stakeholders from different functions.

Mine What You Have

Really dig deep into your Employee Opinion Survey. Seek out the sub-text of the results.
Find those parts of the business that have great scores and great
results. This should be your clue to the organisation you want
represented in your EVP

Know Who You Want to Bee

Talk to the Senior Team about the organisation’s they admire.
This will give you the clues on how to present your EVP to them and
help you understand what they believe is the secret of an organisation’s success

Bee Aspirational but not Unrealistic

It is tempting when developing an Employment Brand to come up with
something that is too far removed from the reality. It should be
aspirational but rooted in what happens day to day

Make it Hard

Find out what the competition are doing and rack and stack where you are and build
a worse case scenario if you don’t create a compelling brand. Use this to persuade the doubters that you need to ramp up your Employment Brand