Three days are too few to fully unwind into what makes the Cayman Islands special. Lobster at the waterside cafe, sparkling blue water lapping white sand, genuinely nice people living in a safe country that feels, well, just happy. I was there to teach a two-day Outthinker course for a local university, training fast-rising government officials on how to sharpen their strategic and innovative thinking skills.
The 150+ internal innovators I’ve interviewed over recent years all have precisely one thing in common. This thing they share is not any of the traits we typically associate with successful innovators: not creativity, customer insight, or influence; not technical knowledge, team leadership skills, or marketing prowess.
No … the one thing they share is this: persistence. They don’t give up.
I have been repeating myself for a decade. In each of the 1,000 or so workshops and keynotes I have delivered over the past ten years, I have repeated some version of the refrain, “Do what customers love and competitors won’t copy.”
What an energizing whirlwind two weeks: keynoted for the Federal Reserve (the future of banking), spoke to CFOs in San Diego (the future of finance), facilitated our Outthinker Chief Strategy Officer roundtable in New York (the future of strategy), met with ABC TV in LA (the future of television), ran a workshop for a Fortune 500 real estate firm (the future of real estate), ran an Outthinker workshop for an apparel retail leader (the future of retail), then addressed a room of board members of public tech companies in Silicon Valley (the future of everything!).
The anger that fuels my mission today surges from a speech I heard a year ago, in Las Vegas, in a packed conference hall. The keynote speaker opened with the line: “I have come to believe that large organizations cannot innovate. They produce ‘innovation antibodies’ that attack new ideas.”
You have an idea that will generate new profits for your company and make you even more of a hero. You can already feel the pats on your back and the industry keynote speech you will deliver, humbly explaining how you did it.
The world seems to have suddenly discovered a nirvana of agile prototyping. Some call it lean or lean start-up, some use human-centered design or design thinking, and you may even hear reference to agile or scrum. Whatever the name, the core message is the same: stop trying to build an idea (a business plan, product, marketing message) to perfection. Instead, conduct small experiments with your stakeholders to learn and improve.
“If you don’t like your job, quit.” This is part of the manifesto of holstee.com, one my favorite entrepreneurial companies, and is perfect for a conversation I am having with the head of strategy of a large financial services technology firm. We are in his office overlooking Park Avenue in Manhattan. He’s laying out for me some of the challenges faced by a growing number of firms that are trying to inject a more innovative, entrepreneurial spirit into their cultures.
I’d say I bat about 500. For every 1,000 goals I’ve set for myself, if I am truly honest, I’ve hit maybe 500 of them. I wanted to write a book … and I wrote a book. I wanted to build a successful investment fund … well, that’s still a work in progress. I married the woman of my dreams but I don’t (yet) have the six-pack abs of my dreams.