No Risk… No Innovation

No Risk... No Innovation or No Guts …no Glory, key imperative in Robert’s Rules of Innovation is RISK TAKING. Without risk, there can be no Innovation. Champions of organizational Innovation must have, and encourage, a tolerance for failure and enthusiasm for risk taking. Risk requires investment (people, time, capital), and willingness to invest without ROI assurance. There are five simple steps for encouraging initiative and Innovation. Learn more about risk-taking in the book, Robert’s Rules of Innovation.

The Sharp Edge of Innovation

It is no hidden secret that innovation is a necessity to compete in today’s marketplace. Often hailed as the Holy Grail for which every organization should strive for, sustainable innovation requires a strategy from start to finish. From the “I” of Inspiration to the “N” of Net Result, you must commit yourself to the process in order to succeed.

But what happens when your innovation journey hits a dead end?

It’s worth noting that failure is an inherent component of this epic journey, and one which innovation champions need to be ready to celebrate as much as their successes. However, it is important to know which road you are traveling on. Are you on the way to the next evolutionary step or an innovation dead end?


In 1901 King C. Gillette fundamentally transformed shaving with the invention of the first safety razor. “The idea of clamping a smaller version of a straight edge onto a handle was genius – the blade was easier to control, which resulted in fewer nicks and cuts, and was replaceable when it became dull,” says Gillette’s website.

Since then we have seen the safety razor go through numerous innovations. From reusable to disposable, from one blade to five, and most recently back to one.

In a forum post from Badger and Blade, they asked their readers what innovations they want to see in 2013. One contributor left this amusing (although a bit facetious) recommendation, “I want to see the newest Gillette multi-cartridge thing. I’ve heard it has 12 blades, a lubricating strip that is 3 inches wide, 18 lifting fins and battery power to make it vibrate. I’ve also heard they put an MP3 player in the newest one…”

To be fair, the most recent razor released by Gillette is indeed battery operated. The Fusion Pro-Glide has five new and improved blades, a micro comb, an updated lubricating strip which lasts “25% longer,” and now has mineral oil to deliver the perfect shave.

The comment begs the question… where can Gillette go from here?

Most recently, in an effort to push into emerging markets, Gillette’s newest shaving system has just one blade, a light plastic handle, and a sharply (no pun intended) lower price. It seems Gillette is stepping away from product innovations and instead focusing on the low road, seeking to increase its market share by pursuing innovations in product delivery instead.

According to Tim Barrett, who follows the men’s grooming industry for Euromonitor, “U.S. razor volumes have fallen for the better part of a decade as customers cut back”. Jamie Hopkins for the Baltimore Sun points to the rising popularity of facial hair as one of the many reasons, but Barrett believes a negative feedback loop is the main driver. “Gillette raised prices to deal with lower sales, customers reacted by using fewer razors, and so Gillette raised prices”, he said. Now Gillette is focusing on new markets.

According to Doblin’s “Ten Types of Innovation”, creating new products is only one way to innovate, and on its own, it provides the lowest return on investment and the least competitive advantage.

What do you think this means for Gillette in the long run? Have they given up on creating the next big thing in shaving? Are they at a dead end? Or are they simply evolving as a company?

Leave your comments below…

The World’s Most Innovative Companies: Risk, Observation, & Measurement

Every year Fast Company reveals its list of the world’s most innovative companies of the year. With the topic of innovation front and center, Fast Company considers themselves to be a progressive media brand “written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders”.

For the most part, this year’s top 10 listing comes as no surprise presenting Nike, Amazon, Square, Splunk, Fab, and Uber as the top 6 champions of innovation.

Initially I had thought to only mention the top five, but for turning the taxi and town-car industry upside down, I thought Uber deserved a mention as well. After all, it’s not often that a company challenges innovation in an industry dating back to the early 1700’s.  But then again, who would have thought you could turn the soap industry on its head with foaming soap dispensers? It just goes to show that no industry old or new is without room to improve.

First place on the “Fast list,” Nike Inc. was highlighted for their culture of pushing boundaries resulting in not just one, but two groundbreaking inventions in the past year. The first being the Nike fuel band, a relatively affordable electronic bracelet that measures movement through the day; whether you go out for a run, play a sport, or just walk around the grocery store.  Their second breakout invention was the Flyknit Racer, a feather-light knitted shoe that required Nike to re-invent their entire manufacturing process.

Not many companies, much less a company already successful and thriving, would take such a big risk in the name of innovation. However, Nike knows that in order to sustain innovation, risks must be undertaken. No Risk: No Innovation.  Put another way, No guts, no glory. Nike CEO Mark Parker puts it aptly, “companies fall apart when their model is so successful that it stifles thinking that challenges it.”

Risk requires investment (people, time, capital), and willingness to invest without ROI assurance. For coaching and techniques to encourage initiative and Innovation you can read more the RROI Blog: Here.

Getting back to the list, Amazon took second place in Fast Company’s most innovative list for their innovations in product delivery. As FC puts it, “Amazon introduced same-day shipping in seven major U.S. markets more than three years ago, but the e-commerce giant’s significant 2012 expansion of its next-day and same-day delivery services was a jolt: The entire retail industry seemed to realize its power.”

Third Place went to Square for enabling credit card transactions on mobile devices. Fourth Place was given to Splunk for bringing big data to the masses. Fifth place was for Fab which matured last year from 3-day flash sales to dozens of online boutiques for niche shoppers; and 6th place as you know, went to Uber.

It was a welcome surprise to see Splunk on the list, especially among the top 5 most innovative companies of 2013. “Splunk makes sense of “big data” by monitoring, collecting, and indexing it in real time, creating opportunities for its clients to improve business operations and save money,” says Fast Company’s J.J Mccorvey.

Innovation is meaningless without attaching measurable goals to an initiative. What gets measured gets done, and Splunk is leading the world in helping companies observe and measure data important to them. Observation, measurement, and tracking of new product development (npd) outcomes are essential to optimal ROI. Magazine editors and innovation bloggers frequently forget that leading indicators & past performance numbers are no guarantee for success; so it is especially nice to see Fast Company picking this innovation champion out of the pile.

Are you on the right track to sustainable innovation? The best way to assess how far along you are in creating and sustaining innovation is to first do an Innovation Evaluation or Audit.  has an online in-depth evaluation that is designed to gauge the strength and weakness of key Innovation Imperatives to create and sustain innovation.  Audit results will show immediately and will be emailed to you, followed by an optional one hour phone consultation.

Start your audit!



Walking on the Edge with Innovation

Innovation thrives on a diet of news ideas. It needs new views, fresh thinking; a different perspective from across the organization, from the center to the edge.

Walking on the edge

According to John Hagel and John Seely Brown for the Aspen Institute Roundtable Discussion in 2012, the place where innovation is most likely to flourish is not at the core of an organization but at the edge “where the weight of inertia is less inhibiting and where disruptive initiatives are more likely to be tolerated”.  Edges are described as peripheral areas where growth has the highest potential. They can also be the riskiest.

By contrast, the “core” of an organization or market is where the money and resources are located. The core is also the most resistant to change. The core makes up the central or essential part of a company, market, or industry.

In order to sustain innovation, risks must be undertaken. No Risk: No Innovation.  Put another way, No guts, no glory. Without risk, there can be no Innovation. Entire industries were made possible only by the risks taken in developing and commercializing them; from the 19th century advances in railroads and steam engines all the way to the invention of electricity and the later development of light bulbs, televisions, computers, internet, biotechnology, and more.

According to another article by Mr. Hagel and Mr. Brown for the HBR network, “unmet needs and unexploited capabilities tend to surface first on the edge.” In order to best take advantage of this tendency, they suggest bringing the core to the edge by exposing your company to “institutional innovations and new management practices” that emerge on the edge.

In order to foster initiative and innovation, ask yourself these questions.

  • Do you allow free research and development (R&D) time?
  • Do you invest in innovation: money, people, and resources?
  • Do you celebrate failure and risk taking?
  • Are you willing to bring the core of your business to the edge?

Although being on the edge can be risky, it is well worth it. Personal laptops were once on the edge of the traditional computer industry. Mobile banking at one time was considered the “edge”.  Hagel and Seely point out that even the iPod emerged on the edge of a number of industries, including consumer electronics, music, and the Internet.


To create a culture of innovation and risk taking, organizations should:

Encourage well-reasoned risk taking. Let your people feel safe to fail, but empower them to do their best work. Encourage or insist upon a plan to be presented first, to ensure understanding and buy-in across the affected organization. Know your tolerance for risk and failure in the pursuit of innovation. The key however, is to make failure a “learning experience

Test. True innovation requires thorough testing in pursuit of success. Testing, measurement, and an accounting of what’s been learned, even in failure, bring measurable outcomes from successes and failures alike.

Trust. Trust your people to pursue new ideas on behalf of your company. Build a culture of trust in individual’s pursuits but ensure safety measures are in place to safe guard against failure damaging the organization.

Innovation Balancing Act


On June 15th of this year, Nik Wallenda became the first person ever to walk across the roaring Niagra Falls on a 2-inch wire.

After battling wind swells, and thick mist, Wallenda completed his walk crossing from the United States into Canada.



He was greeted by a Canadian customs agent who asked, “What is the purpose of your trip sir?”  Wallenda’s response: “To inspire people around the world to follow their dreams and never give up”.

There are many possible roads to innovation. Successful innovation means defining your own road. Much like Nik Wallenda’s walk across Niagra Falls, some of the best innovations come from stepping outside your own comfort zone and balancing the many different facets of innovation.

The formula for success in innovation is about finding the middle ground, walking the tightrope between risk and innovation; between ideation and value creation. The Innovation Balancing Act.

Successfully managing the process of innovation ensures the outcome results in a superior return on investment (ROI).


It’s safe to say that companies are not naturally inclined to try new approaches without clear evidence that those approaches are likely to work. Like many innovators, you may find yourself struggling to innovate in advance of an anticipated economic recovery, while still working to keep costs down in a decidedly uncertain business arena. To increase initiative and innovation, you have to encourage and even embrace failure. You must have a willingness to invest without ROI assurance (see Innovation is Creativity X Risk Taking).

Keep in mind:

  • Milton Hershey started three unsuccessful companies before Hershey’s Chocolate.
  • Michael Jordan was told he was too short to play on his high school varsity basketball team.
  • The Beatles were originally rejected by Decca Recording studios, who said “we don’t like their sound” and “they have no future in show business”.
  • At age 30, Apple’s Board of Directors decided to take the business in a different direction, and Steve Jobs was fired from the company he created. Not only did Jobs go back to his former company, but he changed the market in an astounding way. Jobs claims that his career success and his strong relationship with his family are both results of his termination from Apple.

Are you creating the next Hershey’s or Apple?

 Ideation/Value Creation

The key to optimizing sustainable Innovation programs is value creation. While the creation of the idea is important, the creation of value for the customer is equally paramount. Adding perceived value to a new product or service will drive ROI. The value proposition is the key to successful innovation.
Customer value can be created through the actual value-added of the new product, once you find that delicate balance between cost, price and return. Balance is found, in part, by seeking stakeholder input and customer feedback during development of any innovation process (see Value Creation).Remember:

  • A means to an end – Think of innovation as a process that uses intellectual capital to generate positive business results, new findings and as a result, even more innovation.
  • Key Considerations – Remember to monitor start-up costs, speed to market, scale to volume and other metrics.
  • Customer is king – develop an innovation with high perceived value and strong sales will follow.
  • IP Protection – IP and Patent protection lock in your competitive advantage and support sales results and market share.

You can learn more about the above points, including how to protect your ideas, by reading  Robert’s Rules of Innovation. Robert Brands is the founder of and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation”: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival, with Martin Kleinman, published by Wiley.


Innovation Myths Debunked

true-or-falseInnovation is key to a company’s survival, regardless of the size or type of organization. But there are many myths and common misconceptions when it comes to how innovation is achieved. Many people think innovation is all about generating ideas, or ideation. While it’s true that every innovation must start with an idea, it is actually the delivery and execution of processes that lead to sustained Innovation. In fact, when it comes to achieving a culture of innovation, execution may be the biggest challenge.

This Forbes articles offers some food for thought regarding other common myths about innovation:

1. A great leader never fails at innovation. This is certainly a myth because without risk, there can be no innovation and that means failures will inevitably come along the way. Innovation is too much for one leader to tackle alone, so in turn leaders should practice a tolerance for failure and an enthusiasm for risk taking throughout the organization. Make failure a learning experience!

2. Real innovation happens bottoms-up. Innovation efforts require a formal commitment of time and resources. Innovation needs ownership – a champion within the organization – to convince others to step up to the plate. Ideally, the innovation champion should be an officer or executive/management member with respect, authority and the time and passion to drive the project forward.

3. Initiating innovation requires wholesale organizational change. Actually, innovation only requires targeted change and it can be effective to use dedicated teams to take on the task. With the proper training and coaching, designated team members can structure innovative efforts.

Now that we’ve debunked some innovation myths, you may have some questions surrounding how to get started.

  • How do you set the policy?
  • How do you build a quality team and an environment that fosters teamwork?
  • How can you make organizational changes needed to facilitate your efforts?

The ten imperatives in Robert’s Rules of Innovation serve as a guide for starting, nurturing and profiting from a culture of sustained innovation in the workplace. Robert’s Rules of Innovation gives easy-to-implement and immediately useful ideas for setting and reaching goals like bringing “at least one new product per year to market.”

Innovation is Creativity x Risk Taking

riskInnovation is impossible to achieve without taking a necessary amount of risk. In a world where the success rate of new product entries in the grocery business is 1 in 100, it is inevitable that every success sees failures along the way. An effective innovation leader should encourage creativity and risk taking, while also practicing a tolerance for failure.

In order to foster initiative and innovation, ask yourself these questions.

* Do you allow free research and development (R&D) time?

* Do you invest in innovation: money, people, resources?

* Do you celebrate failure and risk taking?

In a tough economy the willingness to take risks can wither, so it’s critical to let team members know that failure will not result in punitive measures. A strong leader practices failure management by setting and agreeing on the risk taking bandwidth or budget. It is ok to fail but that failure should be seen and recognized as a learning experience.

Fear of failure is an innovation killer, so here are some simple steps to develop a failure management plan that will lead to a culture of sustainable innovation.

1. Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success. This limits your potential loss, while opening up the floor for creativity and risk taking.

2. Never allow an unsuccessful risk to hamper a team member’s opportunities and advancement. A culture of innovation depends on trust.

3. Create and communicate the results of an award program created with a high intraorganizational profile. It should, ideally, reward risks that pay off and “gee, nice try’s” that don’t.

4. Establish a formalized, non-accusatory process for harvesting key learnings from unsuccessful risks. Distribute these lessons learned. The key here is that all risks, whether successful or not, contribute towards the end goal.

5. Give your people the situational risk assessment tools they need to help them improve their risk taking decisions. This can include risk scoring systems to identify different levels of risk, and ways to deal with adverse situations as part of a preventive strategy.

For more tips on achieving innovation through risk taking and failure management, see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Guide for Corporate Survival.”

Innovation & Best Practices, Then & Now

Antarctica Thrives as Hub of New Thinking


Exactly 100 years ago December 17, an explorer found glory upon the Antarctic continent. One month later, his rival met a bitter, sad end. Yet, both share lessons in the power of innovation built on best practices – and the pitfalls borne of haste and poor planning.


Today, for those looking for rationales behind the need for innovation in pursuit of excellence, the race to the South Pole offers both cautionary tales and textbook examples of success and failure surrounding the innovation process for any business or mission.


Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Englishman Robert Falcon Scott shared a dream of being first to the South Pole. Though they both were able and famed explorers of their day, their tales revealed the power of intensive research, planning and best practices.


Yet where Scott decided to innovate on what he believed to be an ideal course of action, Amundsen – who, five years earlier, pioneered the Arctic’s Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific – studied best practices of a culture half a word from his destination. In September, National Geographic marked the centennial of their explorations .


Their examples of innovation range from the fine details to the mundane. Scott’s provisions, supplies and transport included 19 horses, 33 dogs as back-up, traditional wide-body sleds, and woolen clothing – all suited, or so he thought, to wintry exploration. To the contrary, each introduced inherent risk of failure. Horses’ hooves were ill-suited to trodding across snow and ice, which led to exhaustion in the harsh conditions. The wide sleds bogged down. Woolen wear soaked up human perspiration, which then froze to ice.


Amundsen, on the other hand, invested more than a year planning his journey. He painstakingly researched life lived in extreme conditions. He lived with Eskimos and modeled his outerwear on the furs they wore. He innovated upon modern sleds by making them longer and narrower so as to spread their weight across a greater length. Knowing extreme conditions likely would lead to attrition of his dog teams, he brought 53 sled dogs.


For mooring, he chose the Bay of Wales, or Ross Ice Shelf. Stationary for 80 years, it would provide the best shelter for his ship and base camp from strong winds. He built and provisioned three camps along the route. This way, his team would be lightened from carrying provisions the entire route. It’s a practice used by many explorers to this day.


On December 17, 1911, Amundsen made it to – and a month later returned safely from – the South Pole. A month later, Scott arrived at the Pole, only to find Amundsen had beaten him there. With his horses having perished or been shot along the route, Scott and his men began the return trek by foot. Ultimately, they, too, perished in a blizzard within miles from their own base camp.


Today, Antarctica remains a hub of innovation. Engineers are designing robots to navigate amid the extreme conditions. Architects who design living quarters used by scientists on the continent constantly are developing new buildings to withstand wind speeds topping 200 miles per hours and temperatures that can drop to 40 below zero.


This month, a three-man team from Thomson Reuters will drive its revolutionary Polar Vehicle – outfitted with bio-fuel, solar panels, and the latest in real-time GPS satellite communications and tracking. Staged to beat the Guinness World Record South Pole overland journey of two days, 21 hours and 21 minutes, the effort also will mark the centennial of Roald Amundsen’s achievement.


For those in search of innovation’s leading edge, it would seem Antarctica remains one of its final frontiers. One hundred years ago, Roald Amundsen realized – and Robert Falcon Scott lost his life to – the poles of innovation. Where Scott pursued his own vision of innovation, Amundsen followed well-modeled best practices as an imperative of smart innovation. In the end, he proved that innovating atop best practices maximizes the strengths of both.


For more information on Amundsen see:

Or Race to the South Pole

Follow Amundsen’s Daily Log 100 years ago:

Robert F. Brands


Innovation Failure is a Learning Experience

Nearly every attempt at success is met with failures along the way, and properly managing those failures can actually benefit the Innovation process. As an Innovation leader, do you celebrate failure and risk-taking in your organization? Doing so will broaden horizons and lead to more valuable ideas towards a culture of sustainable Innovation.


Innovation = Creativity x Risk-taking. And more likely than not, the bigger the innovation means the greater the chance of failure. In the pharmaceutical industry, 1 out of 1000 is considered a great success ratio. In the grocery business, the success rate for new product entries is 1 to 100.. Risk-taking will no doubt require failure management. In order to “manage failure,” an Innovation leader needs to define the risk and bandwidth that is OK to team members. Then if we fail, we make it a learning experience and praise people for it.


Failure management means never allowing an unsuccessful risk to hamper a team member’s opportunities and advancement. Let your people feel safe to fail, but empower them to do their best work. After all, failure is not what team members should be thinking about during the New Product Development process. Fear of failure can kill Innovation. Especially in a difficult economy where job security is in question, employees want to play it safe and are hesitant to take risks. In this type of environment the most important thing is to establish trust – so team members are willing to take the risks necessary to act, decide and move forward on the path to Innovation. An Innovation champion doesn’t just award successful ideas, but encourages a tolerance for failure and enthusiasm for risk-taking. Without risk, there can be no Innovation.


Here are a few tips for encouraging your team members.

1. Profiles in risk. Clearly communicate the risk profile you are asking your people to adopt and state why it is important to the organization’s success.


2. Key learnings process. Establish a formalized, non-accusatory process for harvesting key learnings from unsuccessful risks. Distribute these lessons learned.


3. Tools of the trade. Give your people the tools they need to help them improve their risk-taking decisions.


For more helpful tips, see “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival.”




Experimentation + Risk (+ Failure) = Improved Environment for Innovation

Innovation rarely occurs by accident, but is the result of calculated effort, work and risk taking. In the face of failure, it requires one to try, try and try again.

Thomas Edison went back to the drawing board more than 6,000 times before finding the right material to create his incandescent light bulb.

Six thousand times. Do you have that kind of innovative stamina?

Innovation is an experiment of sorts. It requires a culture of risk, opportunity and challenge. Moreover, for an organization to benefit from innovation, leaders and team members alike must welcome – and grow from – failure.

Innovation can only be achieved by taking risks. It may mean failing more times than succeeding in order to reap the sweet fruits of your labor in the end.

Rather than view failure as inherently bad, successful innovation requires that executives and teams commit to learning from each experiment gone bad – and incorporate those teachings into the next endeavor.

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Innovation Requires Risk Taking

“If you’ve never failed… you’ve never lived” is a popular video on YouTube describing the failures of people like Thomas Edison, once called “too stupid to learn” by his teacher and Walt Disney, who was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination”. Not every idea succeeds, and indeed, some of America’s most triumphant inventors, artists and entrepreneurs have most likely failed at some point in their lives. But without risk and the possibility of failure, there can be no Innovation and no success. That is precisely one of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” imperatives: No Risk, No Innovation.

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