How to succeed in a 1-in-10 world

In this post, I explained why I prefer business managers with a ‘1-in-10 innovation mindset’ over those with a linear innovation mindset.

Having the right innovation mindset is just the first step. Managers must also have strategies that translate that mindset into actions that result in growth. Asking about such strategies is fair game in an interview.

Another concept Adams introduces in his book, How To Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, is to favor systems over goals for everything in life like diet, exercise, investing and innovation.

For example, a good retirement investing system is to automatically invest 15% of your income. That beats a goal of, “I want to save $1 million for retirement.”

That can be applied to everything. Feel like you are stuck in a rut with the restaurants that you frequent? Make a system where you try one new restaurant per month. In a few short months, you are likely to discover new places to add to your rotation.

Innovation strategies in 1-in-10 world

The Bain & Co article I linked to in the original post, Navigating the Route to Innovation, offers some clues. Companies with more avenues for innovation grow more.

Ironically, the title of that article brings to mind the linear innovation mindset, as managers with that mindset tend to think of themselves as Clark Griswold plotting his family’s route to Wally World, in the movie Vacation.

But, the content implies a 1-in-10 mindset. In the following chart, from the article, it shows the percentage of experienced and new innovators that use various forms of innovation, with the experienced innovators having superior growth.

It’s clear that experienced innovators use more avenues to innovation and are much more active in incubators, ecosystem partnerships, grassroots innovation, venture capital, joint venture and accelerators than new innovators.

When interviewing business managers, I’d be looking for them to demonstrate their 1-in-10 mindset and that means building systems that increase their trial base of innovation and rely less on them for their ‘strategic visions’.

One way is to have multiple avenues for innovation, like the companies in Bain & Co’s article.

But, there are many more.

A long time ago, 3M famously gave their employees the freedom to pursue side projects and their hunches on company time, that resulted in successful products like Post-It notes. That’s grassroots and that’s a system.

Harvesting natural experiments is another way. I’m struck by how many people don’t notice the giant laboratory of variation that are naturally built into their businesses. Too often, they try to stamp out that variation, even when it doesn’t make sense, just because.

Often hidden in this variation are silver mines on ways to improve the business. They may not be gold mines that produce exponential growth for the firm, but can be filled with actions that make steady improvemenst that evolve the company in relevant directions.

I worked in HQ of one national chain where I rolled out a few of these ‘silver mines’. I mined them from the variation in field. When I visited the field, I often heard I was different than others from HQ. “They come out and tell us what to do. You ask questions.’

Others from HQ mistakenly believed that HQ’s plans were right (even the unproven sound-good edicts from executives) and felt the need to drive those plans into the field operations for consistency.

I often visited areas that were particularly good or bad at something. I visited to see if I could discover why and I often did. That system gave me a steady stream of ideas for tweaks I could make to systems and training within my control and even some things outside of my control. A couple resulted in successful national marketing programs, for example, even though I wasn’t a marketing person.

It also made me a valuable resource to folks in the field as they discovered that when they called me to solve a problem, I often had good ideas that I had harvested from others and had put under the microscope to see if there was something to them.

It worked. And, it was pretty simple. The biggest barrier to this approach are the many mindsets that work against it.

As I found over the years, people can reject productive ideas for a number of reasons. I’ll explore those in a future post.

To recap, if I were to hire business managers, I prefer folks with a 1-in-10 innovation mindset and those with good thoughts on how to build systems to find successful actions given those long odds.


Scott Adams should speak with Thomas Sowell

On his recent Periscope, Scott Adams offers basic strategies for success in life:

  1. Get a useful education
  2. Stay out of trouble
  3. Stay away from drugs
  4. Don’t become a parent too soon
  5. Build your talent stack
  6. Be useful to others
  7. Favor systems over goals
  8. Understand basic risk management

He hypothesized if we could categorize the population by people who follow these strategies and those who do not, and ignore the standard demographic categories like race and gender, that we’d likely see the difference.

In his book, Black Redneck White Liberals, Thomas Sowell (among other places) makes the same claim. I wrote about that back in 2013. I highly recommend the book. It changed the way I see the world.

1-in-10 vs linear innovation mindset

I’ve worked with a few companies that have the same problem that constrains growth: management overestimates the odds of innovations succeeding.

They tend to see innovation as a linear, strategically planned process that relies heavily on their, or a small group’s, expertise and keen eye for innovating the ‘right stuff.’

This vision constrains the efforts of their organization to about a tenth what it needs for sustainable growth, because innovation has a 1-in-10 of succeeding, no matter how smart or keen the innovators are.

1-in-10 is not exact. It might be 1-in-50 or 1-in-5, but the idea is understanding the order of magnitude of the odds you’re dealing with.

Some with the linear innovation mindset pay lip service to the 1-in-10 chances, but think they can improve on those odds. They might think good innovation is as simple as following the data or they simply forget their failures well and overestimate their chances.

In this post, I likened the 1-in-10 innovation mindset with the chances of obtaining food during the TV show Naked & Afraid’s primitive survival challenge.

Participants who understand their chances of getting food is 1-in-10 appear to do better than those who fall into the same traps as managers with the linear innovation mindset when it comes to getting food.

They might think their fishing skills, for example, will help them beat the odds. “I know the right places to fish.”

While they cast one hook at a time in the ‘right spot,’ the 1-in-10’ers set 10 hooks and check them each day.

Others lend support to this idea.

In the article, Navigating the Route to Innovation, Bain & Co says companies with a variety of innovation approaches grow more than companies that rely on fewer approaches.

In other words, the more ways a company opens itself to innovating, the better the chance of finding their 1-in-10’s.

Scott Adams, the Dilbert Guy, wrote in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, that we live in a reality where the odds of something new succeeding are 1-in-10. He uses his life as an example, writing about the many failures and a few successes that made his career.

I found it interesting that Scott’s “1-in-10” term is the same used by used by the successful Naked & Afraid participants about getting food, “I have to keep trying to get my 1-in-10!”

If I’m hiring a business manager, I’d look for someone with the 1-in-10 mindset.

In the next post I’ll use another one of Scott’s concepts, Systems vs. Goals, to illustrate how someone with the 1-in-10 innovation mindset can achieve sustainable growth.

Why do they hire people who do the same things as the people they just fired?

Honest question: Why do the folks who hire managers for mature companies hire people who do the same darned things as the people they just fired?

Does the hiring committee ask them what they plan to do?

If so, when the candidates answers, does anyone point out that the five predecessors did the same thing? Does the committee think they will do it better?

I think it may be because many on the the hiring committee know how to play politics, but don’t understand how business works.

Fallacy Watch

We are in high fallacy times. Election years tend to do that.

Fallacies are easy forms of mind control to trick us to believe we are reasoning when we are relying on emotion.

They keep you from thinking and act as defensive barriers for your worldview when it is under attack from information that might not agree with it.

It’s easy for all of us to resort to them and easy for them to be used on us without recognizing it.

I recommend brushing up on the common fallacies below so you can spot when you are using them and when others are trying to use them on you. Though, be warned. People do not react kindly to

Common fallacies I’ve seen in bountiful supply on media and social media, from both sides over the past 3 months:

My rough guess, is that well over 70% of the discourse I see on social media are these.

The media uses these fallacies, too, but they are more clever about it. Often, instead of creating the fallacies themselves, they let others do the dirty work of creating the fallacies they would like propogate and then they just cherry pick their quotes.

Self-determination as the unifying factor in Kling’s ‘Three Languages of Politics?’

Arnold Kling observes in his book, The Three Languages of Politics, that liberals see things in terms of oppressors and the oppressed, conservatives see things in terms of civilization versus barbarism and libertarians see things in terms of freedom versus coercion.

He says this is why people from these three camps usually talk past each other because they think on these different value axes.

I agree.

But, I’ve often wondered why?

I think it may be how much folks believe they are responsible for their outcomes.

If you believe outside forces determine outcomes, you see the oppressed and oppressors and political power is the check on the oppressors.

You might think successful folks are lucky or or a product of a rigged system, while those who have not have succeeded are held back by the system and oppressors.

If you believe you are the major factor in your outcome, as in the choices you make, then you tend to see political power as a tool to provide a free and civilized world where you can make choices that make the most sense to you, as long as those choices don’t infringe on others, and realize the outcomes of your decisions, good or bad.

So, maybe one way for folks from Kling’s three different political languages to engage more productively is to discuss the extent to which they believe in self-determinism.

I can imagine those discussions will be heated. But, if that’s the heart of the disagreement, that might be where it needs to start.

How to admit when you’re wrong

I saw something I don’t recall having seen before on live video: someone admitting they were wrong.

It happens exactly at 45:32 on Adams’ livestream from this morning. Watch from about 44:00 to get full context.

Scott credits a lot of his success from not experiencing embarrassment like most others. It doesn’t bother him, as much.

This is proof.

A Case Study on How to Disagree, Productively

I enjoyed watching this conversation between Hotep Jesus and Scott Adams on the topics of the day.

A big reason I enjoyed it is because it showed two people keep a conversation civil and productive when they disagreed.

They agreed on a lot. By rough estimate, maybe 70%.

But, there were points where they disagreed and neither became agitated or frustrated and fell back on tactics that are too common in today’s discourse — like calling each other names, misrepresenting the other’s viewpoint of shutting the other off, entirely.

That is something that you don’t see often enough.

When they disagreed they asked the other to state their case, listened and thoughtfully responded. In a couple of instances, each changed their mind about something as they took a way of thinking about information that they had not previously considered.

Well done!