A Fast – and Brutally Effective – Way to Make Your Organization More Innovative

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | A Fast – and Brutally Effective – Way to Make Your Organization More InnovativeStartups are good at innovation for many reasons, but the two most important ones are people and culture.

They attract people who are looking for a challenge and opt into taking risk in the pursuit of a potential, yet uncertain, upside. The successful ones create a culture that embraces problems as an opportunity to break the rules and find a better way. There are clear incentives to succeed and significant repercussions if you don’t – like losing your job. These organizations are often resource-limited, which creates an incredible focus on only doing what really matters.

They also fail at an incredibly high rate. According to the Startup Genome Project, more than 90 percent of startups fail. If you tried to do something with that failure rate at most established companies, you’d be fired. So what can you do?

One of the solutions that some larger companies have tried is to create an innovative startup within an existing business. This approach hasn’t had much success, as it’s far more complicated to implement than people think. These internal startups strive to be innovative, but tend to become more incremental. They’re limited by the people available to them and the culture of the parent organization.

The good news is that there’s a faster way to get innovation going: Eliminate all the jobs in your company with the title of vice president. This probably seems like a drastic step. But, if you want to innovate, you need to find the right people and create a culture that’s willing to embrace unconventional ideas and is unafraid of change. Keep in mind, culture isn’t defined by words; it’s the embodiment of your actions.

You can’t get serious about innovation until you’ve put these foundational pieces in place.

Substance over form

To get started, take your current organization chart and delete the vice president positions. You’ll still need some people to lead teams and organize work, but call these jobs what they really are: managers. If there’s an overlap between jobs with all the titles removed, it’s a great time to simplify things and get rid of any role that isn’t critical to achieving the goal. Fewer people results in a secondary benefit of smaller teams, which research has shown are much more innovative.

When you tell someone you’re eliminating their title, you’re forcing them to choose to derive their value from the work they do instead of what they’re called. You’re making them choose substance over form. If the title is so important that they can’t or won’t do their job without it, then they’ll get in the way of innovation. If they’re willing to quit over their job title, it’s highly unlikely they’ll embrace the culture required to pursue innovation and drive change. Innovation requires people that care more about what they do than what they’re called and can deal with the brutal truth.

Why target the VPs?

The VP title is a symbol of bureaucracy, which is the enemy of innovation.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a vice president is: “an officer next in rank to a president and usually empowered to serve as president in that officer’s absence or disability.”

That seems like an important role if something happens to the president, but if the U.S. government only needs one, why do companies need so many? They don’t, that’s the point.

It seems illogical that anyone would want the vice president title to begin with. You’re explicitly acknowledging that you’re not trusted to be in charge unless there’s an emergency. If you literally described the title on a business card it would read something like: “John Doe, Not really empowered.”

If someone wants that job, they’re not the right person to be on a team focused on innovation. You can’t have people waiting around to be empowered; they need to be motivated enough to empower themselves. In fact, if you’re going to pursue something that’s never been done before, you need people who are willing to hold themselves accountable for things outside their direct control.

As organizations evolve over time, you’ll likely be recruiting people from larger companies who feel they need titles to do their job. This is a warning sign that they’re not aligned with the innovation culture. You will hear the argument that titles are cheap; they don’t cost anything. But titles are more expensive than you can imagine; they can cost an organization its soul.

Beware of C-level fever

A new enemy in the title game is potentially more problematic than having too many vice presidents. In Russell Fleischer’s article for Fast Company, he talks about a “C-level fever” that’s not only affecting big companies, but startups as well. He points out that if everyone is a chief, no one really is.

Unlike vice presidents, the chief of something implies that someone is in charge, and when it comes to innovation, this can lead to two significant issues. Chiefs tend to like to make decisions, or at least to be consulted on decisions, which slow people down. They also tend to make themselves the focus of their team, when the focus needs to be on solving the next problem and finding the next idea. One of the keys to innovation is optimizing the people doing the work, not those sitting around talking about it. Limit the number of chief titles to those who need to be legally responsible (and potentially liable) for the actions of the company. When people understand that personal liability comes with the title, it tends to be an effective deterrent.

Innovation is hard, but only because we allow ourselves to make it complicated. Simplify your organization chart, find people who don’t need titles to feel empowered, and create a culture that insists on substance over form. You will be much more successful creating solutions to problems that other people believe can’t be solved.

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Chuck SwobodaChuck Swoboda is Innovator-in-Residence at Marquette University, President of Cape Point Advisors and retired Chairman and CEO of Cree, Inc. He is co-inventor on more than 25 patents covering LEDs and lighting technology, and has over 30 years of experience in the technology business. Additionally, he is an author, speaker and host of the “Innovators on Tap” podcast. His new book is The Innovator’s Spirit: Discover the Mindset to Pursue the Impossible (Fast Company, May 5, 2020). Learn more at www.chuckswoboda.com.

How To Find Your Winning Business Idea

StrategyDriven Innovation Article |Winning Business Idea|How To Find Your Winning Business IdeaThis post will outline the exact framework I’ve used to come up with four very different ideas for my multi-million dollar ecommerce brands. This process will help you not only come up with a product to sell, but also help you create more clarity around your brand vision – something you’ll return to again and again.

First up, if you already have a product on the market this lesson will be equally as important for you, because it’s going to get you thinking about your brand in an entirely new way, so definitely pay attention here.

Right now you’re probably thinking what do I even mean by a “problem first approach to ideation”. What I mean here, in its simplest state is that your product should be the solution to a problem and this is the very first thing to know before starting an e-commerce brand.

You’re not just creating a product, you’re solving a problem. Something that I’ve said time and time again: “The world doesn’t need more products”, so rather than asking yourself what product can I sell, instead ask yourself what problem can I solve?

By flipping this thinking on its head, from finding a product to finding a problem is important for several reasons. First up, if we’re thinking differently to others, we’re more likely to come up with something different and better than what’s already out there.

This method gives you the opportunity to find a better solution to the problem than other standard products on the market. Also if your product is solving an existing problem that your target market or customer already experiences, you know it’s going to add value and be of value to them.

Acing a problem-first approach will also make it easier down the track to create more products that make sense for your brand, because you’ll always have that starting point or brand vision to work from. In fact, coming up with a solution before you know the problem you’re solving can actually be seriously detrimental to innovation. Once you have a solution in mind, it’s really hard to shift from that, even if you know and you’ve got that it might not be the best possible one.

It’s a little like answering a question before you know what the question even was. Even if you take a good guess it’s always going to be a little bit off the mark. Identifying the problem that you want to solve before making your product will make sure that you never lose sight of what your brand is trying to achieve or end up with a product that does miss the mark.

Finding a problem and coming up with multiple solutions means that you’re better equipped to find the best possible product for your brand to sell. What we want to do here is find a problem that you already know exists or better yet you’ve experienced yourself. This is what I often refer to: “scratching your own itch”. That means you’ve felt the pain point yourself, so you’re better able to empathize with your target audience. Ideally, the problem that you’re looking to solve will be in an area that you’re passionate about – you want to be able to do it day in day out, for the foreseeable future.

Let’s use an example that I’ve spoken about before, I’m truly interested in protecting our shared environment for future generations. My interest in this might stem from the fact that my mom is it a little bit of a hippie, she’s taken to doing things like lining her bin with old newspaper instead of plastic bags, religiously takes her own plastic bags to the supermarket, etc. The huge environmental issue is our unprecedented production of waste and dropshipping products – both landfill and recyclable.

So the problem that my brand will solve is how to decrease waste from everyday disposable items. A good way of coming up with your solution here is by turning a problem into a question and your solution will be the answer to that question.

The question could be: How do I decrease waste from everyday disposable items? And one answer would be to make those items reusable and this is something that I do a lot when coming up with solutions – I come up with a problem and ask myself what the polar opposite of that problem would be?

Like I said, the opposite of disposable is reusable this is another strategy that you can use. So we have our problem – the waste from disposable everyday items and our solution making them reusable. Now we want to have a bit of a brainstorm around what some of these disposable everyday items could be, that we could make reusable. This is going to help us come up with some potential product ideas.

So, now let’s start thinking of some items that you use daily, are disposable that you could make reusable. First things that immediately come to mind: Erasers (shopify best sellers), tooth brushes, takeaway coffee cups or straws. Now you want to begin to have a think and do some research around each of these potential product ideas in terms of what you think has:

  • biggest market potential
  • competition

It’s important that they aren’t being done as well by other brands. You can fast forward and go for the item of areas which has the least market saturation (which in our case, from the items listed is the disposable straws).
Then we want to focus in and start to do some additional research around our problem and solution. We want to look at some facts and figures that you can focus on to highlight the problem of disposable straws. Apparently an estimated 500 million straws are used each day in the US alone – this is a powerful number and it can help you convince the customer the importance of making a change.

Then we want to highlight the fact that plastic straws cannot be recycled and they sit in our landfill for years or pollute our waterways. So, you’re starting to create a compelling reason for your prospective customer to switch to a reusable straw, by getting them to understand and even empathize with the problem.

If you’ve felt the pain point yourself, you’re not only going to be more motivated to solve it, but you’re actually going to be more equipped to solve it as well. If you ask yourself your problem as a question, your solution can be the answer or another approach is thinking of the polar opposite of your problem, for example: Disposable and reusable dehydration and hydration or in the case of SkinnyMe Tea (my brand if tea) toxins and detox.

If you’re stuck on ideas you can look at websites like trendhunter or Kickstarter, for example. On trendhunter you can search according to a category you’re interested in:

If you’re interested in health and wellness, then you can go into the health category and maybe look at some of the top trends for that month in the health and wellness space or you can see if anything really catches your eye.

For me obviously if detox teas was written down, I would have found that really interesting and I would have tried to think about some of the ways that I could solve that problem differently to what was already being presented.
Another good place to do some research once you have a general idea is Pinterest. You can type in things like: “the benefits of hydration” or “dehydration” or “detox tea recipes” and look at some of the DIY tips and trends there. As an action item I’d like you to come up with five broad problems that you’re looking to solve.

The Value of the Human Mind – How Machine Learning is Helping Humans Win

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | The Value of the Human Mind - How Machine Learning is Helping Humans Win


There is no doubt that we are living in the AI era. Artificial intelligence is at work all around us today. Even if we do not realize it, our thoughts and actions are training the technology to respond in the way we desire. Machine learning is one of the fundamental tasks of AI. Just as the name implies, the machines and platforms we use daily are learning from the consistent input we provide. Let’s look into ways that machine learning is helping to make our lives much easier.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is an AI component that uses algorithms to find and apply data patterns. The process involves the input of data into a model that is used to predict an outcome. The more data that is input into the model, the “smarter” the machine application seems to get.

The data used can take on many forms, such as text numbers, images, videos, clicks, etc. If there is a way that the item can be stored, it can be applied to a machine-learning model. There are a variety of ways that machine-learning algorithms are incorporated. These various algorithms fit under three specific types of machine learning.

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | The Value of the Human Mind - How Machine Learning is Helping Humans Win

Types of Machine Learning

The three types of machine learning are supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning. Deep learning is the refined form of machine learning we see used daily. Deep learning uses an algorithm to create what are called neural networks. Neural networks are loosely based on the neural networks of the human brain. Each of these types of neural networks fits in one of the three categories.

Supervised Learning

Supervised learning involves machine learning, where variables—called features—and labels are assigned to the model used. These features and labels are utilized to properly classify the data received. The algorithm can identify patterns based on predetermined features and labels.

An example of machine learning using the supervised model is a machine that can count coins of different denominations. If the weights (features) of nickels, dimes, and quarters (labels) are input into an algorithm, the model can predict the denominations of the coins based on knowing the weight (feature) of each. Another example of this is with a music streaming service that predicts the best choices of music to play based on the genre you routinely choose.

Unsupervised Learning

Unsupervised learning does not use predetermined features and labels. The model is set up to search for any patterns it can recognize. The process is much like a person collecting shells at the beach and later categorizing them based on their shapes. Since there are no labels in this process, there is a greater ability for the machine to analyze the data to locate hidden structures contained within it. Unsupervised learning has become popular among those in the cybersecurity community.

Reinforcement Learning

Behavior modification involves the use of reward and penalty to encourage or discourage specific activities. For instance, if a dog is being house trained, it will be rewarded when it does its business outside and scolded when it does so inside. Reinforcement learning uses these same feedback responses to train machines to learn.

The algorithm for reinforcement learning is based on a trial and error model. Large amounts of data are input into the model, and the machine is rewarded or penalized subsequent to whether the selections help or hinder the objective of the application. Reinforcement learning is seen with the training of robots for industrial automation.

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | The Value of the Human Mind - How Machine Learning is Helping Humans WinHow Machine Learning Helps Humans

We see machine learning at work in our everyday lives. From our search engine results to our ride-sharing apps, machine learning is front and center in the process.  What he have seen is that augmented intelligence enhances human’s intelligence. Let’s focus on some of the applications that use machine learning.

GPS has become a staple in the lives of all travelers. GPS uses machine learning to assist us in reaching our destination by using other users’ input and recognized patterns. Picture recognition used by Facebook is another form of machine learning that uses a supervised model. Ride-sharing apps use various machine learning models to predict destinations, estimate times, and determine pricing.

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | The Value of the Human Mind - How Machine Learning is Helping Humans Win


Once merely an element in sci-fi movies, AI has become a part of our daily experience. Whether we notice the presence of machine learning or not, our lives have been made notably simpler due to its role in developing applications designed to give humans the advantage. Hopefully, you can now recognize the ways that AI continues to benefit you every day.

What Is Real-Time Speech to Text and How Does It Benefit Businesses?

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | What Is Real-Time Speech to Text and How Does It Benefit Businesses?

If you are familiar with simultaneous interpreting service, real-time speech-to-text is somewhat similar. In simultaneous interpreting, the interpreter allows the speaker to speak first before starting the interpretation after a few seconds’ delay. Real-time speech-to-text accurately transcribes the words in a spoken language into text a few moments after its delivery.

Real-time speech-to-text is a general term used to define the accommodation wherein auditory information and other spoken words are translated into text at the same time. In the past a transcriber types the information they hear and the text is displayed on a screen so consumers can read it easily. Today, professional real-time speech-to-text service solutions do the process automatically, with AI assistance and human transcribers and editors working together to provide high quality and accurate transcription immediately.

There are simpler speech-to-text apps available for PC and mobile phones. Some work like dictation application, while others allow users to say the text instead of typing it and send it through SMS or email. Some apps are useful for note taking.

Benefits of speech-to-text solutions to people and businesses

People who are deaf or hard of hearing can get information faster because they can read what they need to know. Businesses stand to gain many benefits from using real-time speech-to-text solutions. They can either buy the program and implement it themselves or hire a provider on a per-need basis. Either way, the technology offers several benefits, such as competitive advantage, increased efficiency in day-to-day operation, and enhanced customer experience. The program can collect data as well, which can be used for data analysis.

Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Communication becomes easier. Handwritten notes that are illegible will no longer be a problem.
  • The turnaround time for documents, such as minutes of the meeting, seminar, discussion groups, forum, conference or lectures is quicker.
  • The increased efficiency of the work force saves time. It also reduces paperwork.
  • It allows employees to be flexible. They can dictate while on the go.
  • It allows employees to immediately share files across different devices.
  • The system allows for fewer mistakes. The program accurately and reliably transcribes what has been said.

Aside from the above, certain businesses and organizations also benefit from real-time speech-to-text program, such as those conducting live events and productions, which may include the following:

  • Live podcasts, webinars and live video feeds
  • Speaking engagements, conferences and events
  • Training sessions, meetings and phone calls
  • Briefings, announcements and speeches

As mentioned earlier, real-time speech-to-text application helps you communicate with people who are hearing-impaired. They can access and enjoy your live events and media presentations with transcripts and captions that are easy to read. Further, you provide them with information with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation.

With the support of artificial intelligence (AI), you can monitor the quality of customer support calls in real time.

A real-time speech-to-text provider can be vital for those engaged in corporate training and learning, media production, education, legal transcription, and court reporting.

The thing to keep in mind is that the real-time transcription program works in conjunction with professional transcriptionists and editors to make sure the transcription is accurate.

The Idea Is Not Enough

StrategyDriven Innovation Article | The Idea Is Not EnoughWhen I talk to aspiring startuppers, I realize they have fallen a little for the myth of a winning idea. While it is true that there must be an idea at the base of the creation of a new company, it is also true that it is now almost impossible to invent something new. What makes the difference is putting the idea into practice.

I think this is a more current, less naïve and definitely more complex concept in the sense that an idea may be brilliant, but if it is the wrong time, placed in the wrong market, by the wrong team, it will not go anywhere. Just as there are less interesting ideas, but they are put into practice so well that they can achieve exceptional results. Rather than having the idea of the century, the real advantage is having the resilience to be able to put it into practice in the right way.

Thanks to the experiences I have had so far, I have realized that even potential investors see it that way and, rather than just evaluating the idea itself, they wonder if those in front of them are able to realize it. They generally do not care if it is a sensational novelty, or whether all the numbers add up, or if the business plan is perfect, because they invest in people. That is what happened to me, Stefano and Marco when we looked for investors for our new venture, Foorban – they wanted to meet all three of us to see if we were really the right team to turn that idea into a business.

When they asked me where we got our inspiration from for Foorban, a lunch delivery service, I always feel a bit like laughing because we copied the business model of a New York startup called Maple… which failed dramatically in just two years! Maple arose from an idea from restaurateur and entrepreneur David Chang and debuted in Manhattan in the summer of 2015, offering a high level of service with gourmet lunches cooked in a dedicated restaurant and delivered to the customer in a quarter of an hour. Maple was a huge success; they managed to make US $20 million sales in a year, but then they went bankrupt. The problem was that, in an attempt to win over the whole market, they had lowered the price of their dishes to US $9. Of course, it was an economically unsustainable decision. With a business like that, where the raw material costs more than that of competitors who offer a more standard product, and with the costs associated with delivery in an area like Manhattan, it was unthinkable to enter into a price struggle – they could not win. In fact, at the third round of financing, investors refused to continue to bankroll it.

Maple’s story contains various lessons, such as that you need to have the correct positioning and understand exactly who your target audience is. It is clear that such a high-end product should not be offered to the masses, but to those who are more sensitive to the quality and healthiness of the product and who are willing to spend a little more.

The most important lesson of all is this – an idea may be right, but afterwards you also have to do everything else right, because every stage of creating a new business has its own perils.

About the Author

This guest post is adapted from CREATE UNIQUENESS: How To Turn A Passion Into A Business by Riccardo Pozzoli. Pozzoli is a global entrepreneur; he has co-founded eight companies in the past ten years and is Creative Director for Condé Nast Italias Social Academy.

For more information please visit https://www.koganpage.com/product/create-uniqueness-9780749497385