Tag Archives: innovation

Trade secrets – innovation is overrated

What they don’t tell you about starting a business

In the search for things that are ‘new and exciting’ there’s pressure to do things differently. Being creative, cutting edge or, as they say these days, ‘disruptive’, is seen to be in itself a good thing. We talk about taking ourselves out of our proverbial comfort zones as being good for us – to stretch ourselves, take risks and learn from failure.

But in business, sometimes doing the same old thing, the tried-tested-and-trusted methods can be the right way to go. So long as you do it as a conscious plan rather than by default (because it’s easier than doing something that takes more effort).

There’s another a much-quoted saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got” Many people attribute this quote to Anthony Robbins and before him to Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, and even Mark Twain. Whoever said it, and however well-respected the originator, it doesn’t mean that change and innovation is necessarily good for business.

The trick is to know the difference between business development and growth, between viability and sustainability and knowing, in card-playing terms, whether to twist or stick.

For other Trade Secrets in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/trade-secrets

What’s the purpose?

finger-fun-with-forks

Finger fun with forks

A repairer at our local Repair Café recently told me that the back brace of a windscreen wiper is good for making lock picks. He’s a juggler with a circus school, so he may have a legitimate need to pick locks (when the escapologist can’t?)

When it comes to being environmentally aware and saving resources, we have to learn a list of words beginning with ‘r’ to add’ to the existing green lexicon – recycling, re-using, refusing, reducing.

Two relatively new kids on the block are ‘re-purposing’ and ‘upcycling’. Like the mis-use of ‘recycling’, the two are often used interchangeably. For pedants like me, try this from Mike – co-founder of reCreate Design Co in Sweden; she writes…

“Upcycle, in very simple terms, is taking something and making it better. It’s the reuse of an item that will still be used in the same way – but it looks new and improved. Upcycling can be achieved through paint, add-ons, new upholstery, etc. Repurpose, quite simply, is taking one thing and reusing [or re-creating?] it as something else. “

document-holder-hackThen there’s ‘hack’ by which I don’t mean listening in to  phone messages and e-mails. In this context, a ‘hack’ is a clever solution to a potentially tricky problem. To hack is to modify, or apply an unintended use for, something in a creative way. For me the key element of a hack is the ingenuity brought to practical problem-solving (even if that’s making something you need when you can’t afford to buy). My current favourite hack is to use a retailer’s plastic trouser hanger as a document holder.

All this is a long-winded way of announcing my plan to share my passion for re-purposing through highlighting some examples (some my own, some from others) from time to time on this blogsite.

The first in the series – coming soon – will be a Soap Sock. Feel free to share your own favourite re-purposing and hacking by replying to this blog.

Further reading: 

Recreate Design Co  http://recreatedesigncompany.com

Words to cut waste https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/words-to-cut-waste

The forgotten ‘r’  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/the-forgotten-r-reduce-reuse-recycle-and-repair

Soap Sock https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/green-and-grey-repurpose-soap-sock 

Small change, big difference

Tc-9R-road-diversion-warning-signIf you’ve ever read a book on organisational development, you’ll probably know the quote (variously attributed to Henry Ford and Tony Robbins) “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This is closely followed by Albert Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  

So the message is ‘dare to do things differently’.

Translating this to self-help personal development, the theory is that if you feel stuck in a rut and/or want to boost your creativity you should take a risk, break a routine and jolt your brain into a new orbit.

The standard suggestion is to take a new route to work (or it you’re doing a Fitbit Challenge, you can get off the bus a stop early and take the stairs instead of the lift when you arrive at work). Only small changes, but the idea is that because they’re small and specific they’re less scary (we tend to fear change) and more achievable – think how many new year’s resolutions come to nothing because they are too ambitious and vague.

In my case it’s my regular running routes that I vary. I try to run circular routes and alternate clockwise and anticlockwise if nothing else. Whether I introduce other diversions depends on whether I’m in mindful mode (I stay on track) or problem-solving mode (I explore new routes).

Then there are people who do something different because…

One person did what would be unthinkable to many – deleting over 700 e-mails without reading them. They had arrived in his inbox while he was away on a two-week holiday. He didn’t find any real downsides – most e-mails were time-wasters and the ones requiring action were eventually re-sent to him. He saved hours of trawling time that would have undone the good of the vacation.

I once worked in a place where a member of another organisation dressed in black every day of the working week (and at weekends for all I know). I don’t think he was in mourning – he did it for years, and nor was he a goth. I think it’s just he didn’t want to have to think what to wear in the mornings (a bit like a business suit I suppose). He had an appropriate first name – so we called him ‘black rod’.

Then there was someone else I worked with who cut his hair once a year – on July 4th. If you saw him on July 3rd (long hair) and July 5th (head shaved) you wouldn’t know it was the same person. He wasn’t from the USA; I never found out the significance of 4th July or why he did it.

Recently, as part of a course I was doing, I said hello to strangers (only to women if there was eye contact). Most seemed pleased and said ‘hello’ back to me and I didn’t get as many strange looks as I’d expected!

So why not be bold – do something different and see where it takes you?

 

GAP Learning – a growing family

Latest in the new More Expert by Experience series

Teresa and AmandaNearly 18 months after graduating from the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich, I discover that fellow fellows Amanda Page and Teresa Crickmar are sisters. Well I only studied alongside them for 12 months… There has also been a wedding, but more about that later.

When I first interviewed the two sisters separately, almost exactly two years ago, they were developing two different social enterprises – FullSpoon (Amanda) and Craftworks (Teresa). I hadn’t a clue they planned to work so closely together to launch GAP Learning, but then I’ve discovered there’s a lot I didn’t know about them.

The Craftworks and FullSpoon courses are still happy and healthy* but they have now been gathered under one roof – GAP Learning (a Community Interest Company) with a new upstart moving in – She Loves Him Tho’. GAP stands for Generating Alternative Possibilities with a mission to reach out and get people at biggest disadvantage into education, training and employment through volunteering and learning.

As Amanda explains, that learning includes “a free five-week ‘Healthy Eating on a Budget’ FullSpoon course which includes food safety, budgeting, reducing food waste and cooking.” In comparison, Teresa describes Craftwork’s training as “A mini product design course, getting people talking, thinking about a stress-free life, thinking about learning and gaining new skills by making beautiful products to sell, with an option to set up in business.”

gap logo

Working with ‘hard to motivate’ learners can be exhausting but, for both sisters, this makes the small and large breakthroughs all the more rewarding. “It’s the elation of anything from a learner eventually ‘getting it’, to prising someone out of bed in the morning!”

Like nervous parents with fast-growing children, Amanda and Teresa don’t like to see their learners leave when the courses come to an end, so they offer them lots of progression routes instead. And, like teenagers who don’t really want to leave the comfort of home, some of the learners are only too happy to stay on!

Teresa explains “Once a course has finished, around 20% of graduates sign up to stay on for work experience with, for example, our partners at the local Love Food, Hate Waste project. Some graduates progress to paid roles for a few hours a week and also volunteer with GAP Learning.” Amanda elaborates “Two learners are now tutors, having been trained at Cambridge Regional College. Other part-time roles include administration, design and social media. Then there are one-off volunteering opportunities like event management.”

GAP learning 1Craftworks Rocks is their latest innovation, with young men being trained to make stylish pallet-wood boxes to store and display crafted magnets made by other learners and sold to the public. The plan is to locate the boxes in coffee shops and retail outlets nationally with income being used to pay the producers for more magnets, and to subsidise the courses to keep them free to learners.  Craftworks Rocks was the focus for a recent crowdfunding campaign which raised enough to launch the initiative to meet early demand for the boxes and magnets.

She loves him tho picIt was a ‘Social Venture Weekend’ at Cambridge Judge Business School and a wedding that sparked the latest addition to the GAP Learning family. Amanda was getting married and as she recalls     “I realised there was nowhere that creative people could have the fun of crafting their own wedding items – making rings and other jewellery, designing and printing invitations and menus, decorating shoes.” ‘She loves him tho’ was conceived “It’s a programme of workshops for brides, grooms and their relatives to create a bespoke ethical wedding range that helps make someone else’s life better.”

Amid such change and growth, has Amanda and Teresa’s mission also changed?

“No” says Teresa (like all close sisters, I realise one often speaks on behalf of them both) “Our mission has stayed the same – we want clear positive change through group learning for people with challenges. We’ve put some boundaries on who we work with and, even if we can’t really afford to, we’ll sometimes say  ‘no’ because of our strong values.” 

Building the team has also meant that Teresa and Amanda have had to learn how to manage – both people and processes. “Because we’re now paying people we have to equate our own time and theirs when costing items. We have to set targets and deadlines and it helps them that we’re clearer about expectations. We’re training them for the world of work so time management and good discipline are important.”

“For our part we have to be more realistic about how long things take, get a grip on cash-flow (were learning how payments can lag behind sales) and remind ourselves that unlike the understanding between the two of us, other people can’t read our minds!

As our conversation comes to an end, I ask what’s on the horizon. I admire social entrepreneurs who are self-aware and confident enough to admit their weaknesses alongside trumpeting their successes. Amanda and Teresa are upfront about their needs; funding and financial management are next on their to-do list.  Sounds like a good topic for a new GAP Learning course…

*The health of Craftworks is shown by a recent Social Return on Investment (SROI) calculation showing that for every £1 invested, the service creates £60 in social value. More at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk/documents/SRoI_Report.pdf

Further reading:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/putting-a-price-on-hidden-talent (Craftworks, February 2014)

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/fast-food-for-hungry-learners (Full Spoon, March 2014)

Follow Amanda and Teresa on Twitter: @GAPlearning, Facebook: GAPLearningCIC , and at http://www.gaplearning.co.uk  and www.sheloveshim.co.uk

Could your enterprise be more mindful?

Rearview mirrorWhen I was younger, I had a recurring dream that I was driving a car by looking only in the rear view mirror. It probably has some deep psychological meaning about my childhood – I never found out – but it never ended in disaster; it wasn’t a nightmare.

As regular readers of this blog will know, in developing The Repair Shed, I’ve taken many opportunities to reflect on my ‘journey’ so far – to look in the rear view mirror and use what I see to map my route ahead.

So looking back is part of business planning, what about looking forward?

Business planning has more than its fair share of clichés, quotes and supposedly-clever sayings. ‘Fail to plan and you fail to plan’ and ’Pisspoor planning prevents proper performance’ (and any number of variation on the Ps of planning) are just two. I’m in favour of creating a map for the business journey; I’ve often advocated it when advising others while sharing another home truth – the planning process is more important than the plan itself.

But what if you didn’t look too far forwards or backwards while developing your business? It may sound like heresy, but bear with me…

I’m a convert to mindfulness – something which has been around a long time but is fast becoming more mainstream to the extent that schools and MPs are now considering its benefits. My sister who teaches mindfulness graphically summed it up for me when she said “If you have one foot in the past regretting what you didn’t do, and the other foot in the future worrying about what might happen, you piss on the present.”

Mindfulness is about living more in the present, being consciously aware of the ‘here and now’ to create some calm in an increasingly frantic world. I try to practise mindfulness each day when I’m shaving (I close my eyes and shave by touch), driving to work (giving a running commentary on my driving, other road-users and the driving environment) and while I’m cross-country running (scanning my body and identifying changes in everything from my breathing to my aching joints).

Going back to my recurring dream, while it would be impossible to ‘drive your business’ by only looking where you’ve been, you only have to see a short distance ahead to make progress (just as you can when walking or running).

Given the speed of change in the working and living environment and the likelihood that whatever you plan beyond a couple of months ahead is likely to need changing, what might happen if you didn’t have a medium/ long term plan? Here are just three speculative suggestions:

  • You might save a lot of time in meetings discussing things that will never happen, giving you more time to focus on running your business right now
  • You might be more open to opportunities and more responsive to the immediate needs of your customers (who says being pro-active is better than being reactive?)
  • Workers might feel less pressured by distant targets and more focussed on getting their job done better on a day to day basis

What do you think – could your business benefit from being more focussed on the present by being more mindful? Or maybe you think not enough time is spent planning ahead?

Further reading on reflection:  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/on-reflection-building-a-shed-day-400

Routine or innovation?

 

Chris Lee (left) receives voucher for 10 free swims from North Herts Council Director John Robinson

Chris Lee (left) receives voucher for 10 free swims from North Herts Council Director John Robinson

At the end of September I won a North Hertfordshire District Council competition organised to celebrate ‘Waste Less, Live More’ Week (22 – 28 September – put it in your diary for 2015).

To cut a long story short, I can now call my pallet table ‘prize-winning’ and I’ll be swimming in our local leisure centre for the next ten Fridays for free!

I’m more of a runner than a swimmer, but this week I learnt from a great little British Heart Foundation booklet on physical exercise for the over 50s* that 30 minutes ‘moderate intensity’ swimming burns the same number of calories as 16 minutes running’.

So ten free swims is a valuable prize.

This Friday was my first free swim. I hadn’t been to the pool for a couple of years (it’s not cheap) but happy memories soon came flooding back. I go early and it was the usual 6.30am crowd – older swimmers standing in the shallow end chatting and the ‘speedos’ ploughing up and down the lanes, power drinks lined up in bottles poolside – very intimidating.

I am neither a chatterer nor a speedo – I did my 20 lengths in slightly fewer minutes – but it gave me the time to reflect on the joy of some routines, such as chugging up and down a swimming pool. In fact I got so carried away I lost count of how many lengths I’d swum so I might, in fact, have done 18 or 22 lengths.

How different from the world of social entrepreneurship – in which I’ve been immersed over the last 12 months – where we’re urged to constantly innovate and, more recently, be disruptive (whatever that means). It’s as if doing things differently and being creative in always a good thing. My wife works in the NHS and, like in education, she works in a world of constant change, re-organisation, and energy-sapping disruption. She suffers from people trying to ‘innovate’!

Yes – there’s a need to find new solutions to enduring problems, and urgently, but maybe we should also value the idea of ‘sticking to the knitting’ (as a now notorious ex-government minster suggested recently), doing what we do well, following tried and tested, reliable routines and – like my plodding up and down the swimming pool – allowing ourselves the time to slow down and think.

*Be active for life http://www.bhf.org.uk/publications/view-publication.aspx?ps=1001242 download for free from the British Heart Foundation website.

Waste less, live more is at www.wastelesslivemore.com

Reflecting and sharing will be the theme of an early November blog post

Enterprise Essential – aim to surprise

And make sure the surprise is a pleasant one! The German retailer Tchibo changes stock (and offers) in shops every week to create a sense of anticipation and excitement. You don’t have to change your offering this often, but always think how you can develop and improve your service. Use that innovation as a reason to contact your customers and a hook for getting press coverage.