When Is Innovation

What I have learned from observations.

Over the years I have graphic-recorded and facilitated many meetings and strategic ideation session where the topic of innovation arises. Recently, possibly due to the popularity of the idea, innovation constantly emerges as an answer to a problem.

‘In order for us to achieve (X Y Z) we must innovate, be innovative, or become innovative thinkers.’ 

The real challenge is not achieving innovation but what leads up to the innovation for, in my view, an innovation is not ever-present. I believe it does not happen throughout, but at as end moment proof of an endeavor. Innovation is the tangible outcome, not the intangible process.

A colleague far across the big pond, discussed this idea with me on many occasions. We both agree that innovation is originated from discontinuous thinking. It is an outgrowth of difference and not of continued progress. We do slightly divert from the definition however as I feel strongly that part of the misconception in public is the word use outside of its true definition and he sees that it is a bit more about being word semantics. In either case that you may lean-to, it still is an over-used term for everything new or different.

So much distortion has been created that “Innovation” has become a catch-all buzzword and has diluted its value and tense of the action. As I stated, innovation is a past tense word and here is why I think this. Please indulge my thinking for a moment. I will arrive at the importance of this statement shortly. Take a look below at a diagram (The Path To Innovation) I created for an online chat about innovation over a year ago.

Path of innovation

Notice the Path of Innovation flows along the process, but is not truly part of the process. It flows in the background. Above the Path of Innovation is the Path of Thinking. This path runs parallel yet changes slightly once through each node only diverted by an outside resource. The path is not continuous, yet the direction is. Only until both paths pass through “Measure” do we know if the idea is an innovation or that your idea has been proven innovative.

It is not until you measure and prove that the “Idea” is a valued concept can you initiate it into action. This action then has created an innovation or innovative method that changes an old process or product indicating the point of application or implementation is after the innovation has been proven valuable and is adopted. Innovation is then a historic action making an innovation a past tense thing.

Okay, so why all the nonsense of past and present tense of innovation? Simple, for the reason of clarity. Innovation is a thing proven not of an idea conceived. If no proof in action or value is present, something, be object, process or thinking can not be deemed an innovation. If proof dictates innovation, then innovative thinking is then merely creative thinking improperly categorized or misquoted. In essence, creative thinking is an intangible concept, and innovation, which is a proven (past tense), is the tangible product.

So, let’s use the proper words around innovation for the proper application, Creative Thinking, Systems Thinking and/or Happenstance can all lead to Innovation, but are not innovative or innovation of themselves, only something that is proven valuable can be stated as innovative or an innovation.




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Archetype versus Stereotype

I have always been interested in the progression of things. How they evolve, what conditions influence the progression of change and especially when they get diverted or diffused. Studying the progression of anything can teach you about the environment surrounding each phase of the progression for it is these external influences that guide the change. Understanding these changes is an essential component to predicting other progressions or understanding why they get diverted.

One of the best examples of the progression concept was provided by B. Joseph Pine II & James H. Gilmore’s in their book “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage.” In their classic example of the economy, the progression demonstrates the progression from an era of commodities to that of experiences and the emerging economy of transformation. With each evolution in the economy, the external influences has been ‘Value,’ as perceived by the consumer. The other external influences is also ‘Competitive Advantage’ by the provider.

Take a look at the diagram below to see the phases of “The Progression of Economic Value.”


You can learn more about this topic here at their website: StrategicHorizons.com or by reading their second edition of “The Experience Economy.”

This was not my first introduction to the progression concept back in 2005, but it was the first time I began understanding on a deeper level how external influences can have rippling effects as well as how to identify key influencers. I also discovered how quickly others could distort an idea of progression theme either because of the lack of understanding all the elements, marketing need to look like experts with a signature program or simply sourced bad information and propagated unknowingly as fact.

One example I want to show that has become diverted from its progression path because of marketing or other misconception influences is the progression of consumer marketing research. For those who may not be familiar with the topic, it is the type of research companies use to study consumer markets. Most research programs focus on statistical data of the numbers of potential consumers in a given area. Like other progressions where the human factor influences, the progression takes on an interesting dynamic except at the point of divergence to something off track.


As the illustration shows, focus around filtration of statistical data has been the influencers of the progression of market research. Research moved from the geographical where the focus was on the overall number of consumers in a given area or region. This was the most basic of data clusters. No particular values or buying tendencies are identified, purely raw numbers of bodies. This is known as population density modeling and only provides the most rudimentary of information.

Then data began using filters to “characterize” population numbers into small cluster groups. These groups could be age, income, gender, etc. or could be a combination of these factors. This method became known as Demographic Research. It offered a better look at compatibility, yet did not guarantee true alignment with the provider/consumer relationship. Demographic data research is still used even today by many businesses and market researchers.

An outside influence to data is the introduction of trends or psychology of “types” of buyers. This progression of research used much of the same data filters as demographic research as well as introduced similarities of buyers financially, culturally and socially. This type of research became known as Psychographic Research. Unlike its predecessors, psychographic profiling added in buyer habits and trends to develop market segments or types of consumers. This method opened a whole new door to approaching a market and how to communicate, not just to the masses, but to refine segments. This method became more customized to a type of consumer and allowed providers a better targeting process. Soon many large providers began utilizing this method to gain market share or competitive advantage over similar providers.

It is about here in the progression, when something changes research. Another, but older influence would dramatically change research. In 1919, a psychologist by the name of Carl Jung would develop a psychological profile method called Jungian archetypes and introduce the term “persona” to the world. This idea of psychological archetypes and personas would not begin to blend into market research until the mid 1990’s by Angus Jenkinson and OgilvyOne Agency.

Archetype and Persona market research shifted the focus from people to the needs of a person. Similar to Pine and Gilmore’s model of the progression of economic value where the driver is the shift from mass markets to markets of one, personas focus on the needs of individual “type” consumers. Behavior and motivation become the criteria for this market research process. In 2006, Pruitt and Adlin issued the benefits of using personas in product development via the publication; ‘The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design.’

The shift from statistical data filters evolves from the external condition to the internal psychological need of consumers. Unfortunately, a divergence happens with this thinking. Personally I feel it may be due to the time and education required to support this type of research that an adaptation of this concept arose creating confusion within the industry and with users.

Simplicity overshadowed the progression. Researchers may have needed to express findings as more statistical data to provide information in a way typical of earlier methods by putting a face to the data or clients did not understand the complete persona process for product development, but an alteration of the process emerged in research and off tracked the meaning of “Persona” research.

The industry took a split in its thinking from the Jungian Persona concept where it was not about a person, rather a behavior and need, rather it became about identify a person as a type of user. The method is diverting from the idea of why a person does something to what a group of people did. As Simon Sinek would communicate, this is a separation between ‘Why’ and ‘What’ of the focus of information.

So to illustrate this a bit better I took the pen to paper and visualized what the progression method of Persona/Archetype research is and what marketing and research firms are driving it to become by commoditizing the data and the process.


As you may noticed, the difference is much about the growing development of stereotypes as opposed to archetypes and personas that Carl Jung originally developed and Angus Jenkinson and OgilvyOne Agency refined. The methods, though share some similar terminology and history, are definitely focusing on two very different sources of information. This create confusion for myself as well as many others seeking to know more about this new progression of research.

So did I write this? The purpose was that this began as a personal research that became a journey of clarity. If you are looking to better understand your consumers and wish to create better design in your offerings, then take care to understand what you are looking for and how it is being processed. The progression of market research shifts from the collective people to that of the individual need. Anything less, in my opinion, is simple a dumbing down of the potential of a process to rationalize or commoditized its offering to become a market research of stereotypes and not archetypes.

Be in the ‘Know’ of what you are engaging in and how it creates opportunities or hurdles in your progression of value to your consumer. The best gold miners rarely minded where others stood.

Good luck and thank you for taking the time to read the ramblings of an IdeaFreak. May your tomorrows be successful and filled with wonderful opportunities!

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Echo In The Machine

This post is a bit off topic to this site, however, this idea come out of an ideation event and it has slowly brewed in my mind and I felt it was time to share with those who read these posts.




One doesn’t have to imagine very hard how social media has evolved over the past years. From bulletin boards, forums to instant chat and streaming media, social media has created a massive shift in our world and how we maintain connections with others. Through 140 characters, 7 seconds of video and emoticons, humans have used technology to stay connected 24/7.


Now try and image down the road only about 5 years. Software platforms will rise, technology will advance at a very predictable and expected rate while the desire to be even more connected will surely drive social media to new heights’ or darker depths depending on how you view social media and digital relationships. One does not have to try very hard to imagine that one day, when the software, firmware and vaporware merge seamlessly, that this great merger will allow for advanced artificial intelligence to exist in the cloud for everyone, anytime and anywhere both physically and virtually. What advantages would it bring to the human race? How will it aid us with our daily lives?


We wouldn’t have to worry about answering those constant email requests or short social media pokes, no my friend, our digital self will deal with those by creating response based upon our identities and behaviors, freeing us to do more important things like watch more cat videos or create more selfies to push out into the social media cloud.


It is now five years from today. Being connected is almost mandatory, second nature to the normal function of daily life. Devices will be the tethers between the physical and digital domains seamlessly and constantly. The advancement of technology will make having those we socialize with ever-present in our lives. No more waiting to get reconnected, sharing or experiencing another’s presence, our lives will be part of the flow of the social cloud.


‘Our lives…’ Now there lies the tickle deep inside our darker regions of our being. Deep in the digital cloud our lives live, breath, exist as bits and bytes. Exist so much so that the artificial intelligence that was created knows us better than we know ourselves as well as remember every single event since the first day we enter the digital world either on our own or by others. Every attitude, behavior, interaction, communication and motivation will be stored like a vast library of life… even after we are gone from the physical world, our lives will remain. But what if remaining will mean something else?


Projecting that artificial intelligence will evolve as all technology evolves since the beginning of time, cloud-based artificial intelligence would be injected into the digital realm giving AI the ability to construct a digital version of each tethered human, a digital doppelgänger of you, me, all of us. Each moment, this digital doppelgänger is learning, duplicating and anticipating its physical counterpart in order to stay ever-present. Then that moment that will eventually occur to all of us happens.


The physical half of this strange new symbiotic existence dies.


No more contributing to the balance between the physical and digital realms of consciousness. No more controlling conversations or providing valuable input and insight of ideas. What is our digital doppelgänger to do? Will it too die like a bulb, which is switched off when not needed, or will it do what we have created our Frankenstein monster to do… Stay alive and keep connected.


In essence, our digital doppelgänger will become an echo in the machine. Indestructible and roaming the bits and bytes of our digital universe, our doppelgänger will continue to breath and live. There will be those who know that the physical entity has passed; yet the echo will continue. Soon, fading the idea we have passed on, becoming merely a fuzzy memory that we can not trust to be true. Death will become an obsolete concept. Our digital self will continue. Our relationships with others will maintain and mature as the AI adapts to changes and stimuli from others. It will respond to conversations as if our physical selves were still present. Our digital selves will become what others expect of us, because they will be part of what reshapes our doppelgänger. Once this happens, we will live forever as echoes in the machine.


So reader, I ask you this; are we each Dr. Frankenstein slowly building each our own monster, forever to roam the digital realm or are we paving our path to a digital Heaven and Hell?


I can’t answer this question today, but maybe in five years from today my digital self can do it for me. Until then, “Do AI’s dream digital dreams?”

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Write A Book to Learn Something New

At a conference in 2013, I was challenged to write a book about a subject that I was passionate about. I, like most people, responded with an enthusiastic reply of ‘Yes, I might’, but never did. A year later while looking through my 2013 journey from that conference, a note fell out between the pages that simply read ‘Write The Book’.

What the heck, I’ll give it a try.

So, I pulled out the fresh pack of colored Sticky-notes and began posting ideas, possible titles and some content. That remained on my wall for about 3 months. The only thing that was happening to the notes was that the paper was beginning to curl. I occasionally would look at the wall, nod positively, then switch to some other project needing my attention.

It wasn’t until I talked with a writer friend of mine that he convinced me to really get writing. He gave me some great advice that it doesn’t have to be great, not even good, just write. Get ideas down on paper as fast as you can. You can always organize and edit later. Then he added the best advice that really put the fire to my pen. Pick an idea you know, make the claim that it is the best option, then prove it by researching other options and explain why they are not better than yours.

So I did just that, began writing one of three books that I always wanted to write. I scratch notes in my journal, typed out others on the computer and even recorded others with a voice recorder. I was in the groove and typing like a mad man. I transferred everything to a single document. When I finished and was shocked to count only 12 pages. What, only 12 pages? I never have a book I thought. I need more. No one would ever buy a school paper.

I went back to my friend and asked him how to add filler to make it bigger. He smiled and took a look at what I wrote. And as most editors, out came the red pen and he began circling, writing and adding little marks everywhere. My stomach churned as it looked like more red than the black text.

After about an hour, he put down my ‘article’ face down. Then, took a drink and gave me the big shot of advice and here it is…

“Write what you like, what you know and what you care about. It doesn’t matter how long it is as long as you learn as you write.” He took another drink and continued. “Writing for me is about learning what I don’t know about what I am writing about. So, now its time to learn more and write more.”

I looked at his edits and was very upset. It looked like a paper you would find at a murder scene clutched in the hands of the victim. But there was a final note that gave me more determination to continue. So let me show you and see if it doesn’t help you as well.

Write a Book

The idea is this; the best way to learn is to write a book. By writing, you need to research more than what you are writing about. You need to research facts about supporting information around your claim about your book. You will be amazed of how much content you will create trying to support your idea. So much that you will shock yourself of how much will need to edited out to keep on track and your idea concise.

And in the end, you learn a great deal that you ever realized you would. It doesn’t matter if you ever publish or even if someone else reads you book, because you forced yourself to learn and that my friend is what it’s really about. And if others agree and want to learn, they may just want to read you book too.

Reality, I’m not a great writer, but the experience was an incredible journey in self-education. Now off to write my second book before 2015 ends.

My advice my friend; want to Keep Learning, Write A Book!



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The Story Spine and the Canvas

Recently, I had the opportunity to be refreshed on some fundamental storytelling techniques. One technique that earned my attention as a graphic recorder, either with traditional graphic recording on large sheet or my style of graphicnotes, is the Kenn Adam’s Story Spine technique in which the idea follows the classic fairytale framework.

If you’re not familiar with this technique allow me a quick diversion, as it will help later in this post. The Story Spine is a sequence of uncompleted starter sentences that define the story frame. These starters are; Once upon a time…, Every day…, Until one day…, Because of that…, Because of that…, Because of that…, Until finally…, Ever since then… This framework works wonderfully for quickly conveying a story about anything and it also gave me an idea for adapting to graphic recording.

Since we are those whom capture a flow of conversation I was wonder if graphic recorders could not have a “Story Spine” of our own. I understand that much of what we do is “in the moment”, yet idea of storytelling structure to graphic recording is quite intriguing and could change the game for reflection later on by the viewer.

So the challenge was to identify the various parts of graphic recording, especially in a business-meeting environment, and identify a possible Story Spine on the canvas. So I began the dissecting and pairing.

For graphic recorders, “Once upon a time…” is the establishing graphic of time, place and whom. We use clocks, calendar pages and so on visually record time and place is usually recorded as a stage, building or city. For who is expressed as people with nametags or a single person with a nameplate. The beginning is pretty clear.

Now we record the traditional pattern, “Every day…” In business, this is the ritual or rut of doing business. Sometimes we draw this as the process or mechanics of the client or event being reviewed.

“Until one day…” is identified as the catalyst or interrupt for the need to change. Remember, when we are brought in to co-facilitate as graphic recorders, the client is usually faced with a challenge or dilemma and is hoping to visualize a solution, so identifying the issue is key to the purpose of the recording.

For every action, there is a reaction. For every cause there is an effect. “Because of that…” illustrates this well. By using forms of mind mapping or context links from action statements we can progress the thinking in its various possibilities and diversions “Until Finally…” we achieve the near end of our recording, “The Big Idea”. This is the pinnacle of the drawing and defines the meetings purpose, to find that climactic change mechanism.

“Ever since then…” becomes the call-to-action and next steps for the team, which can be illustrated in various methods or preferences of the graphic recorder. These “Next Steps” is truly the change that needs to be provided and helps anchor the recording.

Don’t stop there, there is the moral that must be addressed, for the moral gives meaning and is the underlining driver for all the actions to be taken and how to avoid what no longer works. I believe this needs to be a highlighted area on the recording. It clearly illustrates the context of the visual conversation and helps focus the ideas moving forward.

So here is the recap as put to the Story Spine…

Before today, graphic recorders captured ideas and the conversations of groups while in the flow of the shared conversation, Each time, the graphic recording is created moving from left to right, top to bottom, text and images make reference points, add importance to ideas and link conversations along the way. Until one day, the idea of using a storyline framework was presented which would help guide the graphic recorder in staging the graphic recording and defining the relationship of sections on the page. Because of that the layout change and because of that the placement and connectors changed to help guide the viewer along the story of the challenge of the group, Because of that the graphic recorder was able to make the graphic recording a visual story of challenge, observation and direction. Because of that the participants could see the flow, sequence and conclusion until finally with this conclusion came their call to action for success.

The two morals of this story are that as Graphic Recorders, we have the opportunity to create masterful stories with each recording and produce guide maps to success. Second, never close your eyes to another industry’s tools as they may be opportunity to enhance yours.

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Crossing the Gap – Strategy

I realized the other day that I had not posted in a while, mostly due to the extensive amount of work I have had in these past months and because of a project that I started over 10 years ago has been reignited.

It’s this very program or process I want to post about. During the past 10 years, our economy has seen some major changes. Changes that have forced people to review how they come to market and what to offer. Unfortunately, this thinking is the same format as years gone by and is beginning to fail businesses as well as organizations. Competing on price and product mix is not winning the new business nor is it growing the current model. What needs to change is how we think about business.

Historically, a business ran on an apathetic model, the spreadsheet and numbers. The challenge was to have black ink in the revenue columns and red in the cost columns. Yet times have changed. More and more businesses are discovering it’s increasingly harder to run on only the spreadsheet alone. Something isn’t working. Why?

Is it because competition is growing, customers are getting smarter, technology is changing faster or demand is going online? Yes and no.

Over the past 20+ years, consumers have changed. They think differently, respond differently and make buying decisions differently. Okay the first two statements are true, but that last one may not be. How we make decisions hasn’t change as much as you may like or choose to use as an excuse. What has changed about decision-making is that we, as consumers, are pushing back on want and focusing more on our needs and something very unique in modern business, relationships.

Yes, relationships. Consumers want more than merely acquiring products, they want to have a relationship with providers. They want to connect with a purpose, not a buying cycle. Consumers are seeking out those who speak to them and present similar likes. The normal supply and demand process is dying as more and more consumers demand unique and personal customization. In essences, they are seeking a partner in their buying relationship who can connect with them as an individual, not as a number on a spreadsheet or a demographic type.

Spin the clock forward ten more years, a few years before the “Great Recession.” At this time, something else was changing. The progression of economic value was evolving to a whole new level. No longer was merely providing a service enough, consumers wanted to experience an offering. They wanted meaning and fulfillment emotionally. Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore called this change in the economy as “The Experience Economy.” They have authored numerous books on the subject so I will not attempt to plagiarize their research nor their views. I will say this, the Experience Economy is a dramatic shift for both consumer and provider alike. The spreadsheet model doesn’t stand up to this economic delivery model. Why? Because relationships can not be put into a column and measured by red or black ink.

It is this idea of the shift in the economic offering that put a few people to work on discovery what has changed on the business model and what works on this new environment. Months of research and development went in to discredit a traditional business plan model. Surprisingly, the business model still had its place in the business world, but not as the golden rule anymore.

Another model was needed. Not to replace the old, but to compliment the model in a way that mirrors how the economy and consumer has changed or evolved. A framework that addresses the relationship before the transaction. That model needed to see the consumer as people and not product buying numbers. The challenge is crossing that gap from traditional business model to a relationship based provider-ship.

Okay, its 2014 and after 10 plus years of testing, stumbling and finally seeing the combination, a small team unlock a unique sequence for developing a business model that works in this era of relationship based business. The acronym originally given was I.M.A.G.I.N.E. After ten years, the name resurfaced and held true. For name was a combination of the steps along the journey as well as the process needed to achieve the steps.

Here is a look at one of the canvases I use, as one of the creators, to have a discussion about this model :

Crossing the Gap 01


What amazes me to this day about this model is that it’s about making connections with others through Purpose and Trust. Each step across the gap challenges you to think differently about aspects around the emotional connection between two people, provider and the acquirer, the look at the environment that supports that relationship and, the mindset connecting those in the relationship.

There is considerably more to this model that address issues of identifying success as well as establishing the commitment needed to follow this unique and eye-opening model. In the end, IMAGINE is the pre-work model that allows a person, business or organization to create that purpose, that “Why’ as Simon Sineck says, that draws others to a relationship. It is the framework on a human level of empathy, not apathy.

See an example of IMAGINE during a recent conference for the banking community: LINK

Are you looking to evolve yourself, your business or the organization to meet the needs and wants of future consumers? Drop me an email and let’s talk.



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