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.


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