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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

5 Steps toward rebuilding your creativity and innovation side

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 
What do you see in this rock formation?

Children are extremely creative and imaginative.  They see many opportunities that adults tend to overlook.  Maybe it is because as we become adults our tendency is to become more mature in our thinking and novel ideas are considered as daydreams and unrealistic.  Perhaps, we fear being ridiculed for ideas that may be unique and creative.  In school, our educators aggressively drilled us in the facts and did not stress the creative side.  It is difficult to say what happened from the kid stage to the adult stage and it was likely different for everyone.

Kids often see things that adults miss.  The photograph of a rock formation may not look like much to you.  The kids standing in front of it thought it was the image of Mulan the lead character in a 1998 movie.  Maybe you can start to get your imagination back by looking for the character.  Seeing alternatives to the normal and expected is a skill that needs further development.  You had a childlike imagination once; maybe it is misplaced now.

Remember when you were a kid and received a present in a very large box.  Perhaps to many of you, the large box became the focus of attention rather than the gift.  The box could be a house, fort, tent, hideout, private meeting place, or anything you wanted it to be.  You let your mind determine the needs at the time and the box took the shape of your imagination.

In building a room many years ago, a sibling managed to go to a section of the room with some crayons.  Clearly, no adult was around, so the child did what most any child would do to the walls!  The father returned home and the wife apologized for the newly decorated walls.  The parents asked the child what that was on the wall.  The child said a “RABBIT!”  It did look like a rabbit and the parents just laughed and repainted the wall. 

Hard to imagine there was the potential for invention in that incidence, but there was.  Years later, the father was in a university discussing a new technology with a professor.  The discussion came to a point that a blackboard was required for drawing certain structures.  The father turned to look for a board as the professor handed him a marker.  Not seeing a place to draw the structures, he asked where the board is.  The professor said “each of the walls.”   The professor had the walls constructed of erasable white board material.  He said write any place you like, I did this at home for my kids!  They love it.

The father missed an identifiable problem present at the time of the rabbit drawing because he was thinking too conservatively.  Kids draw on walls and covering it with paint is a natural solution.  Making the walls to be erasable was not normal at the time. The eventual solution was a creation of someone else that invented something unique and interesting.

The following are few things you can do to enhance your creative and innovative side.  Maybe in time we can improve our skills to be more creative and innovative.  The following are steps that can apply to your everyday life.

1.      Do not dismiss what you see: Too often, we see things that are not normal to us, like drawing on the walls.  It is a problem needing a different type of solutions.  We ignore the alternatives or fail to consider the issue a problem because it is too easy to repaint or wash the wall.  Many issues have creative or innovative solutions if we just think about them.  The new solutions do not need apply to the triggering event; the solution can be an idea for the future.

2.      Identify problems:  Inventions and creative actions occur many times when trying to solve a real problem.  After all, solving a problem for you may solve a related problem for others too.  Seeing the problem is an important step.  It is hard to fix something that is not broken!

3.      Study the issues:  Every problem has issues associated with it.  The background info may be something you can learn from books.  Maybe you can learn about the issues from speaking with others.  Alternatively, you can take the issues apart and assemble them again considering changes that may be improvements.  Understanding the problem and potential solutions are the next step.

4.      Test-drive the solutions:  Recognizing a problem and studying the issues often leads to alternatives that solve the problem.  Testing those solutions is an active component to a final resolution.  In testing, you may see places for improvement and modification.

5.      Finalize solutions:  Testing and modification lead to the final solution.  Perhaps it is something you will find useful for a new business.  Maybe it is something with partnership potential leading to a developed commercialized product.  Alternatively, it may be a simple improvement in how you conduct your life and have little commercial application. After all, many inventions never become commercial products. 

The goal could be to keep your mind active and creative.  Improve that creative and innovative side you had as a child.  Why miss the joy of creating something novel that others failed to see?  You may find it fun and exciting, or even make money on the new idea.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

5 Reasons real leaders must listen and understand

Make sure you did not turn off your hearing or tuneout your team!

Many years ago, a one of my relatives wore an older version of hearing aids.  The device reminds one of the pocket radios with wired earphones.   This person had been married for more than 60 years.  He was fun to be around and always had a great sense of humor.  His wife would often start those discussions that seemed to be more like nagging.  At this point, you would see him reach in his pocket and pull out the receiver for the hearing aid and TURN IT OFF!  In an instant there was no more nagging, even though the discussion on her end continued.  The smile on his face said it all!

The funny thing is that many managers have a way of tuning out without turning off the volume.  They hear sounds but do not listen. If they hear the words, they may fail to understand.  Even if they understood and heard the issues, they failed to communicate with the team.  Failure to listen to your team, understand their issues, and engage in meaningful dialogue has potential to enhance potential problems.  A few reasons for this are below:

1.      Lack of trust:  Your team needs to believe in your abilities and understand the motives.  The goal is the alignment of ideas, directions, and activities.  Trust is an important part of the process.  Your team must feel you are worth following and not leading them over a cliff.  You cannot lead if they will not follow: i.e., all you can do is dictate.  They will never follow someone they fail to trust.  Why should they ever follow you if you never listen to them, communicate with them, and consider their ideas?

2.      Poor commutation:   Communication with the team must be clear and concise.  They must understand the goals of any project.  A team that understands the programs and directions may see things you miss. Poor communications and lack of trust among the team, ensures they will NEVER provide any ideas or bring up potential issues. 

3.      Error creation:  Missing major flaws or errors in design of programs or products can be deadly.  Customers fail to return if the products do not work properly the first time or if they are overly complex.   Discussions with your team may identify flaws or logic problems.  It is critical to your business to identify these issues early and fix them before it is too late.

4.      Milestone misses or cost overruns:  You spend lots of time raising money to build the business.  You promise to meet certain milestones on time and within budget.  Does your team agree with these?  Returning to investors to say you missed these key objectives is a terrible discussion to have and the reasons generally do not matter! Your team’s involvement and concurrence with these parameters ensure they will do everything they can to meet the goals.  They know the company must look good to the investors.

5.      All alone:  This is an important point, there is no I in TEAM.  You may not understand the true problems because your experience in the area is limited.  Ignoring your limited understanding and not engaging the team so you can learn is a recipe for failure.  Failure to communicate and develop trust will leave you all alone.  Some people may like being alone for a while, but you may become one of the real reasons for failure of the business.  Try explaining that away with your investors!

Monday, February 18, 2013

5 Tips on being more than a YES man or woman

I am not going to do that!

Fear of losing a job makes people less than honest in the workplace.  This is especially true when it comes to providing negative feedback to or following directives from the boss.  Bosses can be difficult at times.  Informing them that they are wrong may rub them the wrong way: especially when it happens repeatedly or in front of others.  The question employees must examine is whether they are giving their best performance at work when they are not alerting the boss there may be a better way or of impending mistakes.

Many people are terrified just speaking to the boss.  Bosses are people and they make mistakes just as anyone can.  Developing a relationship with the boss can be more than agreeing with everything that said or requested.  Clearly, you must do what the boss requires as long as it is legal and ethical.  However, there are ways you can approach the boss and provide more value to the workplace. 

Keep in mind that the boss usually wants to do the best possible for the business.  They do not want big errors that cost time and money for the company.  Bosses look for promotions just like the employees and they the same desires as anyone else.  The following are some ideas on being more than a YES person, when you should be saying something else.

1.      Develop a relationship:  Learning to interact with the boss without fear requires development of a relationship of some type. It is not necessary to be best friends, but you do need to be able to speak frankly, when needed.  Learn to recognize what the boss needs and when needed.   Make an effort to help meet timings and milestones.  Understand the job and determine what it takes to be an excellent performer.  Bosses tend to listen to those that are their best performers.

2.      Improve on ideas:  Knowing the business enhances your chances of seeing ways to make improvements.  Bosses like ideas that make things better, cheaper, or bring more harmony to the work environment.  Such ideas tend to be better accepted.  When the boss provides something less than a perfect plan, you may see ways to make the plan better.  Improving on the boss’s idea may be a way to improve on your easiness of speaking frankly.  Yes, the boss likely will get the credit, but who gets credit should not be your goal.

3.      Do it in private:  It is generally better to approach someone in private to discuss a way to enhance or improve a situation at work.  No one likes being corrected in public, especially the boss.  Offering the suggested changes in private may allow you to expand and explain the situation and make it clear.  In fact, make an appointment or determine ask how much time the boss has before starting.  You want to make your point but not in a rushed manner.  You want the boss to listen and focus on what you are saying with as few interruptions as possible.

4.      Do it politely:  The boss is the boss.  Being argumentative or ugly rarely works and just causes people to tune out.  Show respect for the person in charge and demonstrate that you offer the suggestions to improve on the business or prevent a serious issue down the road.  Present your case carefully and in a well thought out manner.  Limit the number of visits to those that you believe are most important to alter a path or decision.  Constant nagging tends to be a turnoff!

5.      In the end, do what the boss says:  You have offered all the arguments and suggested changes.  You have done so in a professional manner.  You may not understand the rationale, but you do need to do what the boss finally decides.  This helps the person understand that they can count on you in different situations.  In time, it may help the boss become more attentive to what you offer.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

2 Words of advice for new and serial entrepreneurs

 Make your dreams a reality !

I do not know anyone that ever dreamed of going to work to make minimum wage.  Perhaps there are people that dram of minimum wage jobs and I hope they achieve it.  On the other hand, entrepreneurs tend to have significantly larger dreams.  They see their objective in life as a way of changing the world, creating a huge business empire, having their own business, or many other things important to them.  Those dreams enhance the drive for the entrepreneurs to achieve something great.

Your dreams may take you in directions different than you ever anticipate.  Wanting to be a famous scientist working in a university as a full professor may be something a child sees in the future.  Maybe they want to cure diseases of the world by inventing the cures.  For others, being an educator and teaching children could be a lifetime dream. Dreams are about doing you find exciting not simply about being famous or rich.  Early in life, you may desire to create new things and be a scientist.  Later, you become excited about business.  One day the two dreams come together and you create a company based on some new technology: i.e., dreams change and can morph into new dreams.

Excitement and desire are what drive people to achieve their dreams.  This is the reason in a recent article, “4 Steps to overcome inertia and build a business” the first objective in overcoming inertia is to create something exciting to you.  People have all kinds of dreams but you never see them striving to achieve dreams of failure: that is not exciting.  It is hard to build up the energy to go after a task you know will end badly.  People want to create or do things they find exciting and fulfilling.  This is what entrepreneurs do.  They find that overlap of a dream with reality and move forward to do something greater.

Search the internet for “you die if you stop dreaming.”  Many articles on entrepreneurs and their dreams cover this topic.  A recent Facebook article from a friend described a woman in her late eighties having returned to college to finish her degree.  She became friends of many of the classmates and finished her degree.  She achieved her lifelong dream and died shortly after.  Death does not have to occur by loss of life.  You tend to lose all that energy and drive when you are not struggling to achieve something new and exciting to you.  It may be ok for some to have daily unchanging routines and have no desire to do anything else, but for an entrepreneur is horrifying.  They cannot imagine living life that way.

One saying you may have heard growing up is, “You can do anything you really want to do.”  For the most part this is true.  The flipside is “You never achieve things you do not attempt.”  Entrepreneurs experience failure for many reasons.  They grieve and many recover to try again.  When the entrepreneur stops dreaming, they kind of die inside and lose some of that zeal for life.  For this reason, it may be better that you never stop dreaming.  You may have guessed the two words of advice already.  In case you did not, the two words are “DREAM BIG!”

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Repurpose a business or a product to create success

This cat is not what it seems to be!

Repurposing has a long history in business.  If something does not work for one area, maybe it will work for a different one.  Take our feline friend in the photo.  It looks like a playful pet, but it was repurposed to be a KILLER.  Yes, it lives in a vineyard and it eliminates animals that destroy grapes.  The farmers grow roses near vineyards to detect insects or diseases before they can kill the grapevines.  Certain types of waste create fertilizer and make the plants grow better.  Repurposing takes place when someone becomes creative and finds a new use for something.

In the drug industry, patents expire allowing the products to become generic.  Many inventors will explore the use of these off-patent products for new indications attempting to obtain patents for the repurposed drugs.  Equipment once used for manufacturing or research supports new and different areas.  People move to accept new tasks to support the new products since they no longer needed for the old jobs.

Repurposing takes place in businesses and with business names.  Sometimes, a tired product or business that failed for one reason or another is adopted and rebuilt.  The owners of Twinkies are working to find a buyer.  The name will likely stay the same because of the wide recognition of the product.  Name recognition is very important to products.  Repurposing of names takes place in the investment banking area where new owners acquire the name and attempt to rebuild the business.  You may not even recognize that the sale took place, but you may recognize the name now owned by new owners.

In a recent discussion with an investment banker, I learned of an acquisition of big name banking group.  The management was changed and new people recruited.  The leader of the team developed a strategy to work with certain companies that other firms had failed to help.  Extensive planning resulted in new successes that benefited the bank and the companies.  The name of the bank remained the same, but everything in that business is different!  A new company was constructed using the repurposed name.

When is building a business, a valid strategy is to acquire a recognized business or product and re-invigorate the product or business.  You need creativity and management skills to carry out the activity and be successful.  The creativity helps you determine the reason for the failure and create a unique and new strategy to make it a success.  The management skills allow you to bring all the pieces together and direct them toward a target of success.

Repurposing comes in different forms.  Have you ever heard of WD-40?  This is a product originally developed by Rocket Chemical Company and first used by Corvair to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile.  The founder started putting the product in cans as an aerosol thinking home uses may be possible.   It took from 1953, when first invented, to 1961 for the first truckload to be shipped.  A company was born from creativity, innovation, and repurposing! 

When you think of your business, keep an open mind. You may find that a different direction may take your business from OK to FANTASTIC.  Your goal is success, not sticking with your original tired or poor performing product.
Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

4 Steps to be a CEO in the KNOW or plan to GO

The greater the EGO the greater the FALL!

An entrepreneur with a great idea and drive is unstoppable.  They will aggressively pursue the development of the business in every way possible.  Some of the entrepreneurs have even done it before which emboldens them to pursue the next company.  Their drive and great idea do not provide the expertise on running the business.  For this reason, some companies seem to languish from the founder’s lack of ability and knowledge.  Sure, they can prepare business plans and slide shows.  They may even know how to raise capital.  All the pieces to create and launch the company are there, but sometimes the management ability is missing.  A business has many moving parts and the CEO must keep them operating well-oiled manner. Some CEOs are simply missing the needed management skills for that business.  They also retain an attitude that “this is my company and I will run it.”  This attitude can get in the way of developing the best operating business and making money for the shareholders.

Founders can miss the signs that they are out of their element.  The signs exist, but most people are unwilling to point them out for fear of making the CEO mad.  The CEO misses them because of feelings of ownership and allowing ego to take charge.  It is a difficult task to deal with the issue. Ultimately is the Board of Directors and/or the investors that are stuck with the horrible task. They must find a way to bolster the skill set of the CEO, supplement the skills by additions to the company, or find a new leader.  Resistance of the CEO to the forced actions can create conflict, which further complicates the task.

Your best way to ensure you are not the CEO that causes such concerns is to develop an awareness of attitudes and encourage feedback.  Remember, “You do not know what you do not know.”  You can also try a few of the following:

Obtain feedback:  Taking negative feedback and finding steps to improve can take you a long way.  The key is to find a way to convince people to provide the information without fear of retribution.  You will not know what to change without the info!  Once you have the data, develop a plan of personal improvement.

Supplement management:  No one is perfect at everything.  You may have skills that cover part of the company but not in the other.  Find a way to assess your strengths and weakness.  Consider supplementing them with hires.  One example is a CEO with great fund raising and finance skills and no operational skills.  Consider finding a COO to run the day-to-day activity!  Alternatively, picking team leaders for different areas may help.

Board members, mentors, and advisors: Trusted people willing to take time to coach or supplement your skills can be a great way to improve.  This requires having a listening relationship with these individuals and taking the steps to try what they say.  You may be able to adapt their ideas or improve on them. Always try to develop your skills and move in an ever-improving direction.

Plan for departure:  The last thing you want is to kill the company due to your lacking skill set.  You may never be able to adapt to the job because the company outgrew you.  This actually happens to some people.  The best think you can do is to recognize it and work with the Board to find an appropriate replacement.  After all, your duties are to the shareholders and to improving the company valuation.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon 

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far” is the title of a book and a movie filmed in 1977.  The film and book provide a 1944 account of the unsuccessful attempt of the Allied forces during WWII to out-flank the German troops during Operation Market Garden.   A difference of views on the success of the mission exists, but the leader of the Allied forces on the mission implied the mission was not a success.  The mission failure was partly due to the inability to hold the Arnhem road bridge.  As rumor has it, one of the generals suggested the effort was a bridge too far, meaning they went further than rear-supporting infrastructure would support them.

Developing a business is like fighting a battle. It requires development of appropriate infrastructure.  The timings and meshing of all activities must support the drive forward.  Failure to meet a critical milestone or initiate an important effort can dramatically affect progress.  This is part of the reason that project planning is so critical to your business. 

One excellent example of the critical role of project planning comes in the development of drugs in the pharmaceutical industry.   In pharmaceutical development, project planning is ESSENTIAL.  Clinical development can take more than 5 years with costs ranging from $20 - $500M. The FDA regulates all drugs and their approvals. The FDA requires that submissions for approval include the manufacturing data for commercial supply.  This includes demonstration that the commercial supply works properly as demonstrated by data collected in the final phases of drug development. 

Manufacturing of a drug and scaling up the process can take significant time.  In some cases, the timings for the scale-up are a few years.  The matching of the manufacturing and clinical development timings are essential if the company wants to incorporate the drug made by the scaled-up process into the final phase of the clinical development: a necessity since the data is ESSENTIAL to an approval by the FDA.

The marketing of a drug must be consistent with the FDA approved claims for that drug.  For claims to match the marketing efforts, design of all clinical studies must support the demonstration of the drug ability to perform as claimed.  This means that all clinical study designs lead to the demonstration that the data proves the claims are valid.  Failure to match the data to the claims will result in an inability to market the product in an appropriate manner.  The whole business process in the pharmaceutical area requires a serious match up of timings and development of supporting infrastructure.  Failure to plan and properly support each activity can lead to delays, failed approvals, poor marketing data, failed product launches, and more. 

Similarly, technology companies must plan their efforts and ensure the proper infrastructure is available to support development and marketing.  There may be differences in regulatory structures, manufacturing, and marketing, but the matching of each phase of the business is essential to proper development.  It is essential that as the leader and founder of your company that you develop parallel efforts and overlay them to ensure a match of all phases leading to the final product.  Then develop proper infrastructure and support to ensure their success.  Otherwise, you risk going “A Bridge Too Far” and may fail to reach your goals!

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon